Naeem Khan is one of the very few designers who can say he’s dressed Michelle Obama—and Lady Gaga—for high profile events. There’s no doubt Khan excels at creating red carpet dresses for women of all shapes and sizes to wear—but make no mistake, there’s a lot more to the Indian-born, American-based designer than just intricate bead work (though, certainly, there is that too).
At last night’s Fashion Talks at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), Khan sat down with Pamela Golbin, the Chief Curator of Fashion and Textiles at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, to talk about everything from his Indian roots, to working for Halston—and of course dressing the First Lady.
If there’s one thing that’s immediately clear about Khan, it’s that India remains a constant source of inspiration for him. The designer had just come back from debuting his collection at Lakme Fashion Week, India’s fashion week event held in Mumbai—and though he admitted that it was an “anxiety-ridden” experience for him to show in his home country (he said his mom even cried), he also expressed a great amount of hope for India’s burgeoning fashion industry. Pointing to the country’s large pool of skilled hand embroiderers, Khan made a convincing case for why India will be an emerging player in the luxury market.
For Khan, India’s textile history is personal. The designer spoke of his grandfather who worked as an embroiderer, and began the family’s now-established business by literally knocking door to door, telling people that he could embroider beautiful saris for them. Thanks to his grandfather’s dedication, the company grew into a full-fledged textile business, with his grandfather and father both well-known in India for designing beautifully intricate clothing for the royal families. It was thanks to the family’s business connections that Khan managed to get hired by the legendary Halston as a teenager. Khan uprooted and moved to America where he worked under Halston as an apprentice–an experience he says helped make him who he is today.
As for dressing the First Lady in 2009 for her first state dinner, Khan said “it was a total life-changing experience.” He humorously recalled jumping out of the shower when he saw her wearing his dress on television. “I’m so happy that she likes my things—I don’t even know what to say!” he gushed.
Before the talk reached its conclusion Khan addressed the rumors of him opening shop in India and elsewhere. Apparently there’s a whole plan currently in development, and that we should expect more in the next five or six years to come.
When asked if he was going to expand and create more daytime pieces Khan said that it’s already “in the works.” Very exciting news for those of us not walking the red carpet anytime soon.