It’s 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning in Miami, and Naeem Khan has already been up for a while. He likes to wake up early when he’s in town, sleeping with the curtains open so he will stir when the sun rises, then share a pot of English breakfast tea with his wife, jewelry designer Ranjana Khan. They live in an airy, ultra-modern apartment in the performing arts district of the city with their two miniature Australian shepherds, India and Rajah. Their home is by the ocean—the shimmering siren that has enticed Khan’s gradual relocation from New York.
“I bought the apartment here years ago because I love the ocean and the proximity to South America,” he says, noting that he had not originally intended to move to Miami full-time. “The more I’m here, though, the more I realize that it’s a big cultural hub and could be an epicenter for fashion. The colors of the city, the people, and the energy here inspire me so much. I love the openness of Miami as well. I feel like I can breathe.”
And so, what was once simply a long-weekend destination and a break from New York for the 57-year-old fashion designer will soon be his permanent home—as well as the official Naeem Khan headquarters, as he relocates his studio and offices to Miami over the next six months. Currently in the early building stages (he acquired the large plot of land on Northwest South River Drive in the Miami River area earlier this year), Khan’s new headquarters are being designed by Arquitectonica — 80,000 square feet of space that will serve as much more than an “office space.” Here, Khan will work on his collections, house his haute couture and bridal productions, and also hold fashion shows and various art collaborations.
“I want to give back to the country that has given me so much, to bring back high-end design and couture production to the United States,” says the Mumbai, India–born designer. The move is also the culmination of a personal dream for Khan. “The beauty of the space is that it is on the water,” he says. “I had a dream for many years that I would one day be able to zip to my office in a boat…. I so believe in dreams coming true.”
When looking over Khan’s remarkable life, prophetic notions are a recurring theme. As a young teenager in India, Khan would pore over fashion magazines. He ended up enrolling in business school in New York—until a chance encounter brought him back to the fashion world. In the late 1970s, Khan’s father worked on fabrics for the iconic designer Roy Halston Frowick, known as Halston. One day, he dragged his son along to one of his meetings to help translate for him, and the enthusiastic 19-year-old student made an impression. Halston offered him a job on the spot. “I had no idea who [Halston] was, and when I was leaving his office he handed me an issue of Life magazine with him on the cover and told me to read it,” recalls Khan. “I was just a kid whose life was about to change forever.”
As the young apprentice of the best in the business, Khan found himself smack in the middle of the New York arts scene, rubbing shoulders with the iconoclasts of the day: Andy Warhol and Keith Haring were collaborators and friends of Halston; Elizabeth Taylor was a regular client. “I had no idea of the vastness of what we were doing or how important those people were,” Khan reflects. “It was the wild time of Studio 54, and there was freedom of sex and drugs and craziness — but looking back, I can see that fashion was so fresh then.”
Although he worked alongside Halston for only a year or two, the glamorous style of that epoch clearly made a lasting impression on Khan. Even today, his eveningwear collections are imbued with the color and glitz of the halcyon days of disco and old Hollywood, which has helped make him the go-to designer for red-carpet glamour. But while almost every notable woman with a stylish occasion on the horizon—be it Michelle Obama or Taylor Swift— has Khan on speed dial, he remains remarkably down to earth. “My parents are karmic people, and I was brought up on that philosophy,” he says. “You work hard, you don’t run after money, and if you believe in your dreams, it will work out.”
With this approach, Khan has amassed a solid business—his eponymous collection, which he launched in 2003, is now sold in more than 200 stores around the world—standing apart from the pack with his striking, timeless designs. “I do not design clothes that are trendy,” he says. “I just take whatever I think is beautiful and classic and make it relevant for now. We need newness, but we don’t need to make a statement every season. The clothes themselves make a statement.”
For Khan, the seed of a collection can come from anywhere—a square of fabric, or something he encounters during his colorful travels, be it in Latin America, India, or right here in Miami. But more often than not, his collections come from a melting pot of influences. “That’s why I find Miami so interesting—because it’s so culturally diverse,” he says. “This is the point where South America meets North America,” adding that there is also something about the city that reminds him of his motherland, India: “There is a connection between the two — the weather, the culture, the flowers are similar…. It makes me feel at home.”
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