>Naeem Khan’s s/s2011 Collection: Collectible Fashion

27 Oct

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TEXT, VIVIAN KELLY

Many of the world’s best fashion designers are men. That’s always puzzled me as they can never actually try on the clothes and truly know what it feels like to wear them. It’s an argument Donna Karan made years ago when she brought out her iconic “five easy pieces” collection of black basics she felt all women needed for their busy lives. Obviously, there is a way around this problem, as there are some very talented male designers, such as Naeem Khan, who know just what their female clientele wants and have loyal followings as a result of getting it right.
In lieu of trying the clothes on for themselves, male designers rely on muses and feedback from the women they design for and retailers such as Neiman’s Ken Downing. Ken’s “girls”, he told us, [pointing to his blackberry] consult and confide in him, and tell him – really tell him – what clothes and accessories they love.

As far as muses go, Naeem has his wife, jewelry designer, Ranjana Khan,
to draw inspiration from on a daily basis, and perhaps, his show stylist, Mary Alice Stephenson. Ranjana is gorgeous and exotic and Mary Alice
is blonde and beautiful in that classic Old Hollywood way. Both women look very different, but both look fantastic in Naeem Khan.

The smart designers listen to “their girls” and deliver strong fashionable collections that move women to faithfully buy every season. Some clients even become collectors. Fashion design is like pulling off the perfect recipe in that there has to be a perfect balance of ingredients.
In our backstage chat, Naeem spoke about his philosophy. “My formula” he stated, is very simple: it’s classic, it’s glamorous, and I keep tweaking, every season. I want to deliver classic, wearable glamour that is so wonderful that it is worthy of collecting. I have lots and lots of women who collect me. People have been collecting these [pointing to a rack of the s/s2011 collection], maybe since the day I started, six or seven years ago.”

As I first replayed our interview, I considered Naeem’s philosophy. The words “classic” and “wearable” do not often go with “glamour”. Classic and wearable are in one camp, and glamour, falls in another. Right?
Naeem Khan, like Oscar de la Renta, is one of those rare designers who have made their careers by consistently delivering drop-dead head turning glamour that’s not even remotely vulgar.
Naeem is very aware of curbing any tendencies of excess. “In my case, because of the clothes being so intricate, you have to be really careful. You can really overdo it. Overdo it – really. When you keep cooking for 30 years, though, you become a master chef. I have to make sure that I give my customer newness every year, and that it’s to the time.”

You need self-confidence to wear one of Mr. Khan’s creations. The list of celebrities who wear Naeem Khan is diverse but all of these women have self-confidence oozing from their pores. Angie Harmon, Elizabeth Hurley,

Michelle Obama,
and Kim Cattrall all project extreme femininity and self-confidence whenever you see them in photographs. Put them in a Naeem Khan dress and the result is that classic glamour that all women look for when they tune in to watch their favorite celebs walk down the Red Carpet. If you’re a basic black girl who’s happy with her five easy pieces, you may want to look elsewhere. If though, you decide that you really are a Naeem Khan woman, rest assured that you will in no shape or form resemble a walking Christmas tree in one of his creations.
Naeem is extremely in tune with his clientele’s horror of looking foolish. “When you make fashion, you have to make clothes for the real woman. I make very very intricate clothing. When you are doing my kind of clothing, my philosophy is clothing has to be real, It’s going to land up in the store, and it has to sell.”

He concluded our interview by saying that one-day, he hopes to have a retrospective of his work.
Maybe in a few decades, the MET’s Costume Institute would have one dedicated to the “Best Oscar Dresses, 1990-2020, featuring Naeem, Oscar, Armani, and Marchesa as some of the period’s top looks.
In the meantime, Naeem’s clients continue to buy and his presence on the Red Carpet continues to grow.

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