Backstage after Naeem Khan's glittering fall collection was unveiled at New York Fashion Week, a reporter asked what advice he would offer to a young designer coming to this country "from someone who has made it in the U.S.?"
Amid the behind-the-scene chaos of well-wishers and photographers, the Indian-born designer took a moment to craft a thoughtful reply.
"I have been in the industry for 30 years in America. I have just had success in just the last 10 years. It took me 20 years of work," he said. "There is no shortcut. You just have to keep trying, you just have to be there and you have to focus with your vision. And you have to be true to yourself. There is no shortcut to hard work."
Now a favorite of first lady Michelle Obama and the Texas social set, Khan has carved out a thriving business with elegant evening wear ranging from embellished gowns to beaded caftans. His latest collection, inspired by "New York's prominent Art Deco influence," might be his most ornate yet, featuring gold sequined cocktail dresses with matching leggings and cape, billowing ball gowns embroidered in floral sequins and metallic tea-length cocktail dresses with flapper gold fringe skirts.
"It was like a magical carpet ride, with sparkle and glitz but it was elegant and refined at the same time," celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch said about the collection.
"And it had all the trends, but just the right amount of all the trend. There's a very subtle Asian influence going on, he had a lot of that. Embroidery was everywhere, the folksy kind of embroidery and then the more Middle Eastern kind of embroidery. The beading on the sleeves, the shear, the fringe — but all kinds of fringe. It was like a little bits of the best of all the trends."
Khan agreed that he was taking his work to a higher level with a more theatrical presentation created by celebrity stylist Mary Alice Stephenson, who sent out models in birds nest hair and dramatic makeup.
"I just feel it is art, right? It's not just about selling clothes, it's also about making beauty, real wearable beauty," Khan said. "I make clothes that I don't even think if I care to sell. I want it to be beautiful."'
And, he has greater ambitions.
"These are my practice runs," he said. "I want to do couture in Paris, so I am just learning. I'm just experimenting."
Khan's fall collection will be available at Elizabeth Anthony.