BY: HAL RUBENSTEIN
When you see a woman dressed by Naeem Khan, the word that immediately comes to mind is RESPLENDENT. This marvelous adjective designates beauty that embraces the richness of color, the sumptuous sensuality of texture, an eagerness to dazzle, and an occasional sweep towards the majestic. No one can transform these qualities more gloriously into garments than the man who dressed First Lady Michelle Obama more times than any other designer working today. Who could blame her? Naeem adores everything that makes a woman sparkle – sequins, beads, paillettes, and, of course, gold, silver, platinum, diamonds, sapphires, rubies, in fact, any jewelry that makes you look resplendent. No wonder he is perfect for Gabriel.
For eight years, we have witnessed one woman command the world stage, unfailingly exuding the essence of graciousness, the poise that accompanies self-awareness, a fearlessly exuberant style as enviable as it is relatable, and dazzling everyone with a special brand of radiance that only a grown woman who has lived an eventful life can possess. To quote my best friend’s daughter, “Michelle Obama is the bomb!”
And no designer, in any of fashion’s capital, has dressed the First Lady more often, and to more consistent universal acclaim, than Naeem Khan.
It’s obvious why Obama has trusted in Khan’s resplendent skills over 10 times!
The woman believes you don’t just walk into a room. Rather, you make an entrance. She came to the right place, because Indianborn designer (now an American citizen) grew up literally immersed in a world that thrived on glamour, sparkle, and explosive color.
No wonder, Khan’s ready-to-wear collection could only bedescribed as rich in work clothes if your job is making everyone believe that everyday can could be a memorable one. In the White House, on the red carpet, at the best parties, on indulgent holidays and as the centerpiece of the most marvelous weddings, Khan’s glorious craftsmanship and impeccable designs are infallible spotlight catchers.
Understated? Nah. Minimalist? Where’s the fun in that? As Khansays with unhesitant matter-of-factness, “Too much is never too much.”
Hal: You launched your line in 2003, but the dress that caused everyone to quickly learn how to pronounce your name correctly was the strapless beaded gold gown Michelle Obama wore in 2009 to a state dinner for the Prime Minister of India. She had looked lovely prior to this night, but this was the first time our jaws dropped in her direction.
Naeem: I couldn’t believe it. It was seen all over the world. Even little villages in India had pictures of it.
They called me from the White House with a tone of high drama.Her people wanted me to design something for her in only two weeks.
Naturally, they stressed it was an evening devoted to myhomeland.
Hal:But how do you make a custom handmade dress in twoweeks?
Naeem: And what do you make that feels Indian but doesn’t looktraditional sari. I decided to place it where India meets America. I immediately thought of gold because I love jewelry and I thought of how Indian women love to have an armful full of shiny gold bracelets. They do not live without their bangles. When you get married, you get your bangles, and you have to wear them till the day you die.like a
Then it’s obvious that Michelle has great shoulders. Finally, mygrandfather built the factories where they used to make sequins, cutting them by hand, in both 24K gold and sterling silver. It’s a 1000 years old technique. Though we didn’t used precious metals this time, because the weight would have been too much, especially because we used the lightest chiffon. Still, all the beads and all the sequins embroidered into poppies were cut by hand.
Naturally, we recommended the accessories because that is an essential part of the culture. The result was such a memory for me. The next day I was the THIRD MOST GOOGLED PERSON IN AMERICA! I haven’t looked back since.
Hal: The dress seemed so elaborate in 2009, but in the last year, we have seen fashion shift away from simplicity and back to focusing on clothes that feel and look special. Do you feel vindicated?
Naeem: No. Because what I do and how I see fashion has alwaysfelt natural to me. I like it defined by glamour and beads, light and radiance. Fashion should make you want to sing and dance and shine, elevated by luxurious fabrics, intricate embroidery and embellishment, and boasting an amazing cut that enhances a woman’s body.
Hal:What inspired this unshakeable aesthetic?
THERE IS ALWAYS ROOM FOR JEWELRY. THERE IS NEVER NO ROOM FOR JEWELRY. Remember, when theindustry made a big deal about what they call “statement” necklaces. Except all jewelry is a statement about yourself and your personality.
Hal:Through having tagged along with your father on a meetingwith the designer, you wound working with Halston. But his clothes are so clean and unadorned, very different from yours.
Naeem:But you work for others to learn craft not taste. Besides,Halston did LOVE sequins. He brilliantly understood cut and fabric and how women wanted to look modern so assisting there became part of my learning curve.
Hal:But you are hardly a minimalist.
Naeem:My greatest source of pride is India’s super rich culture.Luxury was invented there. India was the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, and coming from a family that has been in the embroidery business for generations, my parents doing what they did for the who’s who of the world, shaped how I look at beauty, fashion, celebration and the good life.
Hal:But if clothes are so ornate, can they also be ornamented.Coco Chanel used to preach restraint, by telling women to look in the mirror when you are finished getting dressed and then take one thing off?
Naeem:NO. NO. NO! THERE IS ALWAYS ROOM FOR JEWELRY.THERE IS NEVER NO ROOM FOR JEWELRY. Remember, when the industry made a big deal about what they called “statement” necklaces. Except all jewelry is a statement about yourself and your personality. I always remember seeing the gypsies when I was a child, wearing all that hand beaten metal stuff around their necks, hanging from ears, their ankles covered in silver and gold.
Hal:Ok, but that’s a lot.
Naeem:Of course it is. But the point is jewelry gives youidentity. It highlights your presence. Anyone can be shy and safe. But in this day and age when so many are vying for attention, don’t you want to walk into the room and own it? For me, there is nothing better. Jewelry and sequins, all that sparkles, is about celebrating life. We have only so many days to live on.
THE GOSPEL OF NAEEM
NAEEM KHAN’S 10 KEYS TO FINDING YOUR STYLE
1. If you want to make a statement, be bold and add another layer of sparkle. Minimalism is sometimes an excuse for playing safe. But don’t pile it on. Experiment with different ideas, but don’t be afraid to try and fail. Style takes time
2. Look to your heritage for inspiration. I am so proud of the my colorful diversity of my Indian culture. Indian jewelry is extraordinary. Explore the elements that make yours so special and adapt what excites you.
3. Check out the elegance of the past. Social mediadoesn’t have all the answers. Look to see how people dressed back when style seemed essential, even just to get on a plane.
4. Travel. One of the best ways to discover new things new to love areto leave what you know and head for somewhere that you don’t. It’s amazing when you can learn from somewhere that has a different ways of expressing beauty
5. Find a style hero. It could be your mother, a film staror anyone who you think gets attention for all the right reasons. Don’t copy them. But observe what they do and how they dress to get others to notice them.
6. The magic of a beaded gown is that it lets light define the contours of your body. But when you are wearing embellishedclothes, don’t believe that’s all the shine you need. Jewelry completes the picture. And the bigger the gown, the bigger the jewels. This is no for understatement
7. In India, our weddings take days, even weeks. So as far as I’mconcerned, in America you have to pack and awful lot of fun and glamour in just one day. Don’t hold back. And don’t hide behind your veil. Revel in the day.
8. Your wedding should be all about harmony. So your gownshould match your jewelry, your location, your food. Don’t wear a beaded gown on the beach. Don’t walk down the aisle of a cathedral in a skirt suit. Also comfort is essential, so check out linings of your dresses. Finally, the bigger the wedding, the more jewelry you are allowed to wear.
9. You only have so many days in this life. You need tocelebrate every one of them. Every day when you get up, first do something to stay healthy. And then adorn yourself second. They are both equally important
10. If you want to be a memorable woman, being a fascinatingpersonality is much more important than being a great beauty. And always carry yourself like you are worth $10 million.