New York (April 28, 2022), La Maison Valmont New York partnered with Naeem Khan, the brilliant international fashion designer and artist, to host a showing of the artist’s latest floral painting collection, echoing Valmont’s latest fragrance “Just Bloom,” a bright bouquet of white flowers resting on a bed of silk and linens; an interpretation of both pure and sober telling of character, joy and fulfilment, a white floral signature of contemporary elegance and crystalline luminosity.
The gathering showcased never-before-seen original artwork, paired with curated dresses from Khan’s collection, perfectly capturing the essence of couture fashion that inspired Sophie Vann Guillon when creating "Just Bloom."
The guests were welcomed to La Maison Valmont at the iconic Manhattan hotel, The Carlyle, and enjoyed an intimate evening with the renowned artist, who generously hosted a fireside chat for an esteemed New Yorker crowd, recounting his remarkable journey from young aspiring designer, to his years as the protégé of icons Halston and Andy Warhol, to his love for painting and all things floral.
Q: Tell us your amazing story of how you came to NYC from Mumbai, found yourself at the epicenter of the NYC social scene in the 1970s at Studio 54, in the atelier with Halston, designing dresses for Liza Minelli and Elizabeth Taylor, paving your way to launching your namesake collection that landed $1 million in sales orders at the ripe age of 22!
Naeem Khan: I was at the right time, in the right place. I grew up in India, very humble and from very simple parents. Never anything like a fancy car. I grew up playing cricket on the street while my parents made textiles. I'm the third generation of textile makers. We’ve produced the most amazing handmade textiles for over 100 years now.
So, there's history in the family. I grew up seeing amazing textiles being made for extraordinary occasions. I remember my grandfather, planning a pattern for an elephant at an Indian coronation. Imagine needing ladders to take the measurement for the front of the elephant to embroider it. It’s very long (laughs).
When I was 17, I wanted to go to college in America. When my father came here on a business trip, I happened to come along with him. At the time I attended a British school in India, so I spoke English with my father. I went with him to his appointment with Halston and I tried to explain what my family did. He said “This is amazing! How do you know so much?” and I told him I grew up in this world. Then he asked what I was going to do, and I said, "I'm coming here to go to school." He said “You’re not going to school. You want to come work for me?”
My father was like, "No, he's a child."
And so I left to go back to the United States. I got my papers from FIT. I went back and told my mom I wanted to work with this man. My mom had no idea who Halston was, but I convinced her, and my dad agreed soon after.
I left India at the age of 18 to come here. And imagine, in my first month here, I met Andy Warhol. And I'm like “this is a very strange place.” And it was so cool. And cold… I didn’t even have a winter coat.
It was a strange world for me but it was so amazing! Halston was such an amazing guy. We would sit on St Patrick’s Cathedral steps, and he would just watch me feel the snow.
I learned through him, and I learned through just being around him which was so incredible. Imagine he and Warhol used to work together to do collaborations of all different sorts. I used to draw all the flowers on all the clothes. And one day, Warhol stood behind me, looking over my shoulder as I worked and said “You shouldn’t hold your pencil that way. Let me show you how to draw.”
Warhol took a liking to me, and we would go to the factory, and we would draw together. I was an 18-year-old kid, surrounded by these amazing guys who all took me under their wing. They taught me to be the person I am today. I was fortunate and lucky. Like I said I was at the right place.
Q: You learned to draw from Andy Warhol and worked together with him on his floral artwork. I read that you would go home at night and imitate Halston’s style, with the lights very low and beautiful flowers. And personally, I know how much you love flowers and specifically picked these peonies tonight! Your new artwork collection is inspired by florals. Ultimately, what do flowers represent to you?
Naeem Khan: Several things. First, I grew up in India. If you’ve been to India, you’ll know India is all about flowers. You get married, there are flowers. In the summer we would have poetry sessions in the village. Imagine being a little kid, and everyone dressed in white for poetry sessions, with flowers everywhere.
We would sit in jasmine, dance and recite poetry. Flowers mean a lot to me.
Warhol when I met him, I drew flowers with him. On a very fortunate evening, I did a fashion show, and this gentleman comes to me and introduces himself. His name is Stanley Castleman. He is the one who told me that what I do on the clothes, I should be doing it on the wall.
Stanley Castleman: I simply saw this fashion show and I was just dumbfounded by the work and the beauty. I got the fortunate chance to sit down with Naeem a month later and spoke to him about deconstructing his work. Because to me, what he did was deconstruct paintings and put them on bodies.
And as I sat there, I deconstructed the clothes and turned them into these flat pieces in my head and said, "Why can't these be paintings?"
Then I said “What am I taking elements out of your dresses? Attaching it to the fabric that I'm painting on? And then we painted from the backside?” And off we went.
Naeem Khan: From my meeting with Stanley, new art emerged. Much like my meeting with Halston in the 80s, it was really about the time and place, and how the meeting of two artists makes something new. That’s the story of the flowers.
Q: Tell us about your artwork? What prompted you to start painting? What do you feel this artwork can communicate to people that doesn’t come through with your fashion designs?
Naeem Khan: I wouldn't say I'm unable to communicate through fashion. I think it's very similar. I think every designer works differently. In my process, I create the fabric first. It's not like somebody gives me a bolt of fabric and I cut it and I make it into a concept. With painting, we visualize something, and we create the whole thing.
We are creating the fabric. We are creating the texture. So, when you think that you mould all this on a woman's body, why can't it be on a wall?
Which is amazing because what we do is three-dimensional and we have so many materials we work with. I think artists don't even work with so many materials as we fashion designers work with. We work 100 times… No, a million times faster. Imagine a painter who sits there, and he paints for two years, and he makes one canvas while in fashion, we do that in one season. You have 100 different pieces of work in three months. And then we move on to the next.
Fashion is fast, fashion is art, and it’s moving at lightning speed.
And when I met Stanley and I started doing this it was so slow for me. The monkeys were rolling in my head thinking “This is so slow.” I need to do a thousand things at the same time. But I'm happy and this is amazing. I'm very happy with Stanley and he is the best part of working on the paintings.
Just Bloom, the newest addition to Collezione Privata, is a celebration of the contemporary woman. With its modern play of floraldehyde musk and a white floral bouquet, this fragrance is the perfect balance of light and dark. An entirely feminine scent and a crowning moment for Valmont CEO and fragrance editor Sophie Vann Guillon.
A Beautiful night to remember!