Not everyone has the audacity to buy a multimillion-dollar,sky-high triplex in Miami on a whim, but Naeem Khan isn’t your typical house buyer—or fashion designer, for that matter.
A look at his luxury women’s wear label—known for its opulent embroidery and worn by the likes of Beyoncé, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Michelle Obama—reveals that he’s been playing a steady long game in a bid to court younger consumers. His recent collections, including the coming fall line, emphasize glamorous separates, popular with millennials.
Born and raised in Mumbai, Khan, 61, learned about textiles from his father and grandfather, who designed elegant saris for India’s upper crust. After moving to New York, he apprenticed with designer Halston. He launched his eponymous brand in 2003, a bridal line 10 years later, and this year hopes to open a new headquarters not far from that glorious Miami aerie.
You’ve emphasized separates recently. Why are millennials drawn to those?
In the past, you had the grand dames shopping for gowns. Now you have money in younger people’s hands—women in their 30s and 40s in tech or finance, and they think differently. There are only so many occasions for gowns. Separates work better. And millennials want to put things together their way and express themselves creatively. So you can take one of my tops, a Zara skirt, and maybe a Miu Miu jacket, and make it your own.
What did you learn about fashion from your father and grandfather?
They designed fabrics made with pure gold, sterling silver, real pearls, and diamonds, all done by hand. I had a dream to take that tradition and make it modern. Now my two boys work with me. That makes four generations of a family tradition.
That must make you proud.
It does. It also creates a homey atmosphere at the office. The people who work for me are like family, and the office is designed like a home.
Well, if it’s anything like your Miami home, then your workers are lucky. You bought that home on impulse?
I did—without ever seeing it in person.
I’d looked at many homes but was wasting time not making a decision. I was in Dallas at a [trunk show], a thousand people, standing ovation, and I stepped outside feeling so good. [Later, surfing online], I saw this apartment: three stories, like a set of glass boxes on top of a high-rise, with a pool in it. I saw it on a Saturday and bought it on a Tuesday.
What did your wife say?
She thought I was insane. But she knew if I really wanted to do this, there was a reason. So she let me. We designed the interiors together. That was 12 years ago and we’ve been very happy there.
Now I’m building an art and education complex [in Miami]—a high school of fashion. I’m moving my headquarters down there, so the kids can get hands-on experience. We’re also talking about growing hemp and other sustainable fabrics. All this evolved from a basic question—how do we give back?
Naeem Khan’s fall 2019 collection: