Indulge

With plans for new headquarters and a fashion school in the River District, Naeem Khan is on a mission to redesign Miami

In life there’s fantasy and reality, and I think I bring that to fashion. What I fantasize, I make for real women.” Prior to leaving his home country of India to begin what would become an illustrious four decade career that has taken him from his days at Halston to being one of the most recognizable designers in the world, Naeem Khan received a memorable piece of advice from his mother, Razia — keep his focus on creativity, not cash. “When I left India, my mother told me, ‘You have to never run to money, your art is always number one. You just have to work hard, and money will run after you’”.

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That strive for artistic integrity has not only delivered Khan worldwide success, but has also kept him at the top of his game. He can count early friendships with influential celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli and Truman Capote; triumphantly launching his eponymous label in the early aughts; and recently dressing the likes of former First Lady Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, as some of the high points of the last 40 years.

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His latest endeavors find him far away from the runways of Paris. As part of his vision to revitalize the potential of Miami-Dade’s fashion industry, Khan is not only moving to his entire base of operations to Miami, but has also sketched out plans for a new fashion school, an extension of Design and Architecture Senior High. In an exclusive interview with his longtime friend, the equally visionary photographer Iran Issa-Khan — a fixture on social scenes in Miami, New York and internationally — the designer takes us behind the seams of an empire whose newest conquest is our very own Magic City.

IRAN ISSA-KHAN: Describe yourself in three words.

NAEEM KHAN: I can tell you what I would like to be. I’ve always had an admiration for the “Renaissance man.” A man who can cook, design a house, loves flowers, women, architecture, riding horses, playing polo. So to me, that’s somebody that I’m striving to be.

IIK: You described yourself exactly as you are; a Renaissance man. Speaking of, you began your career as an apprentice with Halston, a label and a man synonymous with the extravagant lifestyle of the late 70s and early 80s. Tell us a bit about that time for you.

NK: I feel that I was fortunate because I came to work for Halston when I was 19, and I was not jaded. I grew up in a very humble environment, and I moved into this crazy world of high fashion and the high life. Drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. But what Halston taught me was tremendous. Fashion is not only about making clothes, fashion has a lot to do with how you live and who influences you. He surrounded himself with amazing artists like Andy Warhol and Martha Graham, and movie stars like Liza Minelli, Elizabeth Taylor and so many others. These are people who influence and inspire. It really works well with developing your way of thinking.

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IIK: It flows.

NK: It did. He was a magic man who from a bolt of fabric created art. One of his lines used to be, “Does this fabric talk to you?”

IIK: He was a true gentleman. I met him in New York in the 70s or the 80s. He never lost that desire to make women beautiful, in a gentle, easy way. That’s something you have. You look at a female body and you make it elegant, so beautifully.

NK: The difference between his clothes and mine is that my clothes are way more ornate (Laughs). I like gilt. I like the ornamentation.

IIK: That’s where your background comes in. I think being brought up in India with your family that made these beautiful materials — full of gold and all the hand done — it had to do something to you as a human being and as a young boy, to take that experience and make it into the clothes you create today.

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NK: Culture is so important. My family has been making textiles for three generations — I’m the third generation — close to 100 years. When you see your grandfather and your father who are so embedded in their work, it’s a part of their soul. I remember spinning gold threads together with my grandfather and his employees, making these amazing, beautiful saris and wedding dresses for India. You know that there is so much soul in those clothes. To me, it’s important that my clothes have that same soul.

IIK: What was the experience of launching your first company like for you?

NK: I left Halston because I had met my future wife and I wanted to get married and have a family. But that whole life with Halston was very complicated because it was…

IIK: It wasn’t about marriage.

NK: Right. So, I went to L.A. and I started a company called Riazee, which was my mother’s name. I have a very close relationship with my mom and I felt that she would be my protector, so I used her name as an umbrella to take me to the next level of my life. It was that year that I made my first million dollars — at the age of 20.

IIK: What a compliment to your mom! So, years later in 2005 was when you changed it to Naeem Khan?

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NK: That’s also when I had my first fashion show and that collection was a major success. All my life, I’ve seen how people change when they wear something they love. Even me. I might be in a T-shirt, but when I put on my suit, I feel fabulous. Clothes should make you feel confident, like you can take over the world.

IIK: You travel everywhere and like many in the fashion and art world, you spend plenty of time in New York. Of all the cities in the world, what is it about Miami that captivated you?

NK: First of all, it reminded me of India because I come from that kind of weather. So, I fell in love with Miami because of the warmth of the climate and the warmth of the people. I fell in love with the friendships I made! I met you literally the first month I moved here, and we remained fast, furious friends all these years — 17 years now.

IIK: It’s absolutely true. It’s so strange, because it feels like yesterday.

NK: Think of all the times we’ve spent not ever having had an argument. Every time we meet, we laugh, we eat, we drink, — we celebrate life. And when you have friends with whom you celebrate life, that’s when time goes fast.

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IIK: What do you think of the fashion scene here? You had some news up your sleeve earlier this year, no?

NK: Yes, a great experiment: to produce my collections here in South Florida. There’s a reason I wanted to make the move to Miami, both personally and now professionally: it gives me space to do a lot more. Because of that, I’m going to create an environment where I can run my business here in Miami, so I can provide employment in the city itself. If you can produce goods in Italy and France, why can’t you produce in America? I decided to make Miami my new headquarters.

IIK: A new stage in your life, then? Your partnership with Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH) is also a part of that. A major “moment” for the city!

NK: I feel that I’ve reached, as you said, a stage in life where I need to give back. Where I can build a fashion school and have the kids interact with my company, giving them firsthand experience in the creative and business process of a fashion enterprise.

IIK: Can you comprehend the impact of learning about the business that early on? Imagine how much the kids can develop artistically?

NK: To inspire a mind early on opens up horizons. Finding inspiration through fashion, art, movies or museums will likely become a habit that will stay with them forever. The school will have different programs, which will be tied in with international artists coming to teach various forms of art, including fashion. Miami’s going to be even more incredible, and the extension at DASH is a huge part of that.

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IIK: Having you here in Miami all the time will be fabulous! How much fun! Where are your favorite places to enjoy socially here?

NK: I have some favorite restaurants that I love to go to, but I always check out the Pérez Art Museum Miami, right? It’s fantastic, just to see what’s happening there. I love that building. I like dinner at MC Kitchen or Mandolin. All of these places are in the area I live and I kind of stick to that.

IIK: I know you’ve dressed Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Kate Middleton, etc. Besides all the society women and famous stars, who else is a “Naeem” woman?

NK: I think people make a big error in thinking that I have dressed only high-power women because they get all the limelight on social media and in the press. But 95% of my clients are normal, everyday people. We have over 220 stores around the world and have a strong presence online. My clothes are easy to access and are made simply for anyone that has an occasion where they want to look completely amazing.

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IIK: Your art collection is really rather impressive. Everything that I’ve seen in your home, be it here in Miami, New York, or wherever, is something very special. How do you pick the pieces?

NK: Many years ago, and I was a 24-year-old kid living in a one bedroom apartment. I had a TV on a box, a sofa, a bed and every wall covered in original Warhols. So, I’m just giving you an explanation of what art means to me.

IIK: Beautiful. This is perfection.

NK: And so it has always remained. Every year I dedicate X amount of money to buying even a small piece or, you know, something. I must have like 80 or 90 or 100 paintings, mainly contemporary art or photographs. Each piece has to make me happy.

IIK: And tell me one thing. If tomorrow, you wanted somebody to remember who you are, what you are, what you did in this world, what would be something that you would aspire to have people say?

NK: That through the success that I’ve had, I have used this platform to change the world. By that I mean that I offered education or I helped the planet through sustainability. I have this idea where industry and education can combine to create a new mindset, so that we can build the industry in our country, rather than sending it out. I want to be known for that. {Laughs} Add it to the list of things to do, ok?

Photography by Kellie Walsh/ 4 Eyes Photography / Fashion Editor/Producer: Elysze Held / Hair: Danny Jelaca / Makeup: Osvaldo Perez / Models: Bella/The Walk Collective, Carolina/The Walk Collective, Lilo/MC, Melissa V/MC. Assistant Stylist: Dani Parets / Fashion Interns: Samantha Torres, Pangea Kali Virga and Victoria Cabrera. Jewelry provided by Chopard / All wardrobe from the Naeem Khan Resort 2020 and Fall/Winter 2019 collections.

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