Naeem Khan’s SS17 ready to wear and bridal collections find the Indian-American designer in nostalgic mode. An homage to the classic cuts of his mentor Halston, New York simplicity fused with his Indian heritage; as ever, Khan’s central inspiration is East meets West. Fresh from camel riding in the desert, he talks about his latest collection and the exclusive pieces he has created for Fifty One East.
Harper's Bazaar Arabia: This is your first show in Qatar. Why did you decide to do it and what do you like about the country?
Naeem Khan: I Love Qatar. It has such energy. I am in the business of luxury and Qatar is the home of luxury. We have a good relationship with Fifty One East and have really built our relationship with them in the past two years. I sell out here, our business in Qatar is growing so rapidly and the bridal market is unstoppable. So when they invited me to do the fashion show here it felt like perfect timing to raise awareness of the brand. This is only my second visit to the country, the last was only 25 hours. So I don’t know much about the social side but the speed of growth since I was last here seven years ago is stupendous.
HBA: What are the key looks for your S/S17 collection?
NK: Colour blocking is central and, of course, the body conscious jerseys. But I love the fringe dresses too. They’re so fun. I love fringes and movement. They just make you want to dance all night.
HBA: What were your inspirations for the S/S17 collection? I think food was one of them?
NK: Food is one, the colours of food because I love to cook. I cook lunch for my team three or four times a week, for 15 or 16 people. But for me this collection is more about my time at Halston. I was his assistant for many years, he was my mentor.
HBA: In what ways does his influence manifest in the collection?
NK: What I learnt from him was style and cut. He was known for the jerseys, cut on the bias, very simple. So what I’ve done here is East meets West, his philosophy meeting mine. So the colours aren’t his colours, they’re mine. I’m not trying to copy Halston, but it has to feel like Halston, like the opening numbers, the jersey dresses, the way they’re cut.
HBA: And are there any regional influences?
NK: My collections always are influenced by India of course but also the Middle East. For example, there’s a yellow coat with sterling silver poppy-like flowers and a headscarf. That’s very inspired by here but in a modern way. I take patterns from Arabia or India and mess it up, so not to be obvious. Avoiding the cliché.
HBA: How do the exclusive pieces for Fifty One East differ to the rest of the collection?
NK: Modesty is a very important factor. The market for modest fashion is huge and growing. It’s not just demand from the Islamic world, it’s from Hasidic women, the conservative Christian world. And there’s nobody really catering to it. In the West everything is based on being sexy through revealing. But it’s actually easier to make a woman look chic when she’s more covered. So the exclusives for Fifty One East are based more on modesty rather than changing patterns or colours.
HBA: And of course, there’s always embellishment which is popular here...
NK: Embellishment is my signature. We keep 600 people busy in my family’s factories in India just embellishing my gowns. I grew up surrounded by it, it’s been the family business for over 100 years. But then I moved to New York and started hanging out with Warhol at the Factory. So chaotic, exotic India met with simple, modern forms of New York, an exposure to modern dance and art. So what you see is a blend of all that.
HBA: What do you think of the style of the Middle Eastern woman?
NK: They’re very elegant. And I’m actually quite shocked by the things they request from my collection. Embellished jumpsuits and dresses that are quite adventurous. They’re wearing these pieces at home, in the company of fellow women, not out, and she is actually quite liberal then. Fashion in the Middle East is changing fast.
HBA: In what way?
NK: It’s much more open. Today’s young Middle Eastern woman is super body conscious. She’s looking great. Everybody exercises, watches their diet. She has a great body.
HBA: Of course, there’s been a big fitness boom here.
NK: Exactly. That relates to fashion. She wants to be fashion forward, like she sees in the magazines.
HBA: Did you have a muse for this collection?
NK: Halston was my inspiration. The woman remains consistent. She is super fashionable and powerful. Like the first ladies I dress. They’re strong, not afraid to make a statement. Mine are strong dresses, if you’re not confident enough they will wear you. So these women have presence, they’re the hostess, the belle of the ball.
Click through the gallery above to see all of the runway looks.