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INTERVIEW BY HAL RUBENSTEIN, GABRIEL GLOBAL STYLE DIRECTOR

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DESIGNER SPOTLIGHT

From: GABRIEL & CO

Naeem Khan wasn’t prepared for the world post-Covid. 

INTERVIEW NAEEM KHAN BY HAL RUBENSTEIN, GABRIEL GLOBAL STYLE DIRECTOR

Naeem Khan wasn’t prepared for the world post-Covid. “I was so depressed during it. Anything related to going out vanished and all you read about was how everyone was living in sweatpants leggings and baggy sweaters and eating takeout. Well, I don’t design sweats and never will.” So, post pandemic, Khan, who grew up in India surrounded by some of the most sumptuous fabrics woven in his family’s factories and who dressed former First Lady Michelle Obama more than any American based designer, was preparing for the worst. Instead, the designer of some of fashion’s most classically glamourous, intricately embroidered and red-carpet ready clothes is walking around happily flabbergasted these days. “Our business is off the charts. Absolutely incredible.”

That’s good news for Khan. That’s good news for high fashion. And certainly, great news for us.

naeem lhan

You sound surprised to be as busy as you are?

Our business is off the charts. I didn’t expect to have our factories to have to ramp up to speed so soon.

What do you think happened?

I have always traveled extensively in my work, so I get to talk with women from Qatar and Paris to Dallas and Japan, and what they told me was that the pandemic was a profound reminder that life is short, so it’s important that we go out, eat, celebrate and have the best time we can with friends and family. Also, they said we must not only enjoy ourselves, but we must invest in ourselves.

“Jewelry is what makes my clothes, any clothes, come alive. If my clothes are a delicious cake, then jewelry is the frosting, and who doesn’t love frosting on a cake?”

—Naeem Khan
What do you think happened?
What do you think happened?

And how does one do that?

According to these women, by taking care of our health and our bodies, and buying whatever clothes, jewelry and accessories that will make us feel beautiful. For them, and I believe they are right, that means looking for items that are unique and exclusive. My customers are more than ready to spend the money on an outfit that’s special, but it’s equally important that they are made to feel special, so service is essential. Look, there is so much now available. There are beautiful clothes everywhere, so you must attract a woman’s attention by catering to her. We just started a new division that does custom work, and we are now servicing 10 to 15 clients a day.

You don’t advertise. How do you get the word out about Naeem Khan has to offer?

The quality of our clothes is our best advertising. I don’t follow trends. But I know a woman’s body. I know where to put a dart, how to set a shoulder, the way to drape a fabric to enhance a woman’s body, so that when a woman looks in the mirror, she sees someone incredible, and when she goes out, her friends and maybe even her rivals, tell her, “Oh my god, you look so fabulous! Where did you get that dress?”

And how does one do that?
“When I am designing, I am always thinking about what jewelry will finish the look. You can’t go without it.”
—Naeem Khan

“When I am designing, I am always thinking about what jewelry will finish the look. You can’t go without it.”

—Naeem Khan

Who taught you this and did you always want to design clothes?

I was taken into my family’s factories when I was 4 years old, so the process of making beautiful things immediately became part of my life. And because of my family’s skill and obsession with quality, I have the luxury of being able to design not my clothes but my fabrics as well, so every design we produce is made from scratch and woven exactly to my specifications. It’s a wonderful advantage.

How else does your Indian heritage influence your style?

This is just my observation, but certain ethnicities encourage dressing up and even showing off. Indian culture loves to live large. Our weddings go on for days with constant costume changes. Indians, in fact, are not big on looking casual. Why? Because you don’t look your best in sweatclothes and leggings.

How does accessories fit into your aesthetic?

Obviously, my clothes are highly embroidered and ornamental, but jewelry is what makes my clothes, any clothes, come alive. If my clothes are a delicious cake, then jewelry is the frosting, and who doesn’t love frosting on a cake? You feel cheated without it. When I am designing, I am always thinking about what jewelry will finish the look. You can’t go without it.

Some stylists now are very big on minimal accessorizing since some fabrics have become so intricate and dramatic.

It’s all about understanding balance. If dresses are over the top, as some of mine are you don’t want tons of jewelry on the wrist, but you do want pieces that enhance the drama of that great dress. For example, if I am styling a caftan, I want to complement the volume with simple rows of diamonds. In the winter, when women are more covered up, I reach for big chunky earrings.

How else does your Indian heritage influence your style?

We love necklaces at Gabriel & Co.. Some stylists are afraid of them. Aren’t you a big fan of necklaces?

I absolutely agree. Necklaces can be tricky, but a strapless dress offers the best opportunity for one that is eye-catching, especially since necklaces reflect shine upwards, which flatters the face. Making a statement with them is so much fun. Hey, I am Indian. Give me jewels!

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