Highly Conventional Forms

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Naeem Khan dresses she who rules and roosts in the White House (until January 2017, anyway). His clothes have a familiarity not unlike the most recognized casa blanca in Washington, so much so that, after just a few minutes into his show for Singapore Fashion Week, we were able to guess what will come out next. This predictability is perhaps his selling point. Mr Khan’s clothes are not challenging; they do not deviate from what is expected of him—gowns that look good on the White House front steps, on international red carpets, and certainly here at the Supreme Court Terrace of the National Gallery.

The spring/summer 2017 shown—“highlight” of the SGFW—on Saturday night was, according to seat-allotted show notes printed sans semblance of a layout (and in full caps too!), “dedicated to my mentor, Halston, whom I work for in the 70’s (sic).” Mr Khan is, of course, not the only person to be inspired by Halston. His compatriot Tom Ford, a Halston devotee, continues to walk his idol’s footsteps, whether he’s conscious of it or not. Although Mr Khan’s own work is less imitative, the first four colour-block jersey dresses left no doubt the source of his inspiration.

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Ironically, it is in the homage to a past fashion god that the clothes looked most modern, even if they were a smidgen too Halston to align seamlessly with the embellished prettiness typical of Naeem Khan. The quartet of slightly flared dresses with geometric panels and strategic slits to reveal limbs, will no doubt appeal to GOOP girl Gwyneth Paltrow, or any woman who can live without a hint of blink.

However, that unadorned simplicity quickly took a back seat, which was, of course, no surprise. From then on, Mr Khan was in full force, and the visual serenity gave way to an off-shoulder baby doll dress that looked like a giant reticule with armholes. It was nearly completely embroidered, and from where we were seated, appeared beautiful, but it did look like someone (or some people) laboured over it. “A lot of my embroidery is made in India,” Mr Khan had told the media, which, although uncalled for, made us think of the other embroidery-loving designer Guo Pei.

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Chinese embroidery goes back more than 5,000 years—the much-lauded su xiu (苏绣) of Suzhou, for example, is believed to have a genesis that dates to 2,000 years ago. Ms Pei, for all her love of dramatic styles, offered embroidery that looked light—silk-fan light, as if it was effortless needlework by one individual. It probably isn’t, but it looked that way. Mr Khan’s own family was in the embroidered textile business, and India, too, has a rich history of hand embroidery with many different regional styles, just like in China.

But for this collection, Mr Khan’s application just looked a bit too heavy, so much so that they seemed more like embroidered appliqué. Even the sulam-looking needlework looked overwrought. For those who love decorative excess, this is surely no problem. In fact, they “keep style-watchers gasping with admiration”, exactly just as USA Today said when describing one of Michele Obama’s Naeem Khan gowns.

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For designers who love this much embroidery, beading, lace and floral prints (which, together, Mr Khan calls his “own signature materials”), somehow bridal wear is often part of the repertoire. And those wedding dresses that make Mr Khan the go-to designer, just like Vera Wang, appeared in the last part of the presentation. Mr Khan usually stages bridal couture in separate shows, so it must have been an extra treat for those who came to see what would have been just occasion wear. Well, bridal wear is occasion wear!

It seems such a long-gone past when wedding dresses closed the French couture shows. (We’re thinking of Yves Saint Laurent as we write this.) So it was fascinating to see Mr Khan’s bridal pieces, which seemed to be designed for Princess Leia Organa’s wedding to Han Solo. Okay, it was the headdress that looked like something Anakin Walker and Padmé Amidala’s daughter might have worn, but the Princess, if you remember, was fond of donning a bridal-white, ankle-length dress when fighting Storm Troopers. Naeem Khan’s wedding frocks are, of course, prettier, but, just like Star Wars, they articulate fairy-tale, even if this here isn’t “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”.

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