Beauty & Fashion >> Indian Fashion Designers >> Azeem Khan

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Azeem Khan

Mumbai designer Azeem Khan counts Hillary Clinton and Naomi Cambell among his elite clientele. And why not? His designs are top-of-the-line.

The area of Colaba at the Cathedral doted tip of Mumbai resembles both a fishing village, a Navy installment from Rudyard Kipling days and a burgeoning mix of fashion boutiques and art galleries. Those who live there like to think of the neighborhood as COHO-Colaba and Cuffe - Parade - similar to New York's trendy but funky Soho area.

Fashion designer Azeem Khan is one of the innovators of Mumbai's Coho, with his cool and snazzy boutique next to the Colaba Post Office, and with his background of a being a real New York City Soho inhabitant, living and working downtown.

"Our family S.U.Zariwala has had its operations here for three generations. My grandmother started it off by selling embroidered hankies door to door," laughs the charming 30 years-old designer, sitting upstairs in the office of his boutique. "My grandfather Shansheed Khan bought a paan-beedi shop in this very same place and I have kept the same wooden and brass enhanced door."

While S.U.Shansheed Khan changed his name to the generic embroidery and sequin Zariwala title, it sparked the neighborhood Zariwala art, which thrives in nearby shops and studios. Azeem's father's work is known in the Indian film industry with his famous sequined sarees draping Nargis Dutt to every other heroine in the movies.

"Our company S.U.Zariwala is currently India's number one in exports to Italy, France and New York and every year, business increases by 25 per cent," says Azeem. "Most of the companies in the west don't want to deal with Indians, maybe because they are so laid back and can't always deliver. My three brothers carefully supervise all the work, one living in America, the other in Europe and one is involved in the manufacturing unit."

Despite his illustrious family lineage, Azeem Khan was not always going to be a designer. He originally studied medicine and architecture, and said his father did not pressure him to get in the family line but allowed him to "Find myself".

Azeem "found" himself going to New York City in 1989 and studying at F.I.T. He received the "Design of the year" award there in 1992 and got a scholarship to study at the prestigious Parsons School of Design.

"I am basically not happy in one place, and I like to jump from place to place," said Azeem. "Parsons is a private school. The competition made me focus on what I'm good at. I got on the Dean's list and then Geoffrey Beene offered me a job as an Assistant Designer."

Azeem became totally 'down town" from going to school down town and living the New York Soho life, as he worked for this well known designer. He said that after two years working for Beene, he considered staying back and getting U.S citizenship but Mumbai beckoned. His father's store represented yet another place for his restless creative spirit to flow.

"I wanted to make the store like downtown New York, a place for art and fashion," said Azeem. "The architect Rahul Malhotra worked with me on this project capturing a special look."

The designer's Miamoto sports coupe is parked in front, the Kohli fisherwomen appear to float past this stone and brass store, blending into the environment. In fact, the boutique is so much in sync with COHO, that it is the only non-art gallery participating in the monthly "COHO Art Night", where everyone is invited to go gallery hopping. Azeem Khan's store is a stop on the art journey.

"I like to work hard and I party hard also at night," laughs Azeem, whose good nature is apparent through an exuberant "Split personality of work and play"

Azeem's international designing skills were earlier demonstrated on super model Naomi Campbell when he designed an elaborate Indian bustier for her saree when she did a fashion shoot in Dubai. He also designed the clothes for Italian jewelry designer Marina Bulgari's launch at the Taj Hotel in October.

"Bulgari contacted me to be a partner and I was restricted to five sets," said Azeem. "I did the show for fun and deigned clothing that wouldn't be astonishing, to compliment the jewelry. I was really surprised to later receive many calls and requests to buy those clothes."

Azeem Khan's first show in India, the Diwali '98 Collection, was held on October 10 in his boutique. It was in his words, "Very casual, like Soho, where you don't sit on a chair - so different."

He elaborates, "I started with ten outfits and in a burst of creativity, designed 26 outfits for the two models, Jaswinder Sachdev and Pooja Mishra," said Azeem. "I like doing things like that, subtle and beautiful because it's just not a matter of buying clothes."

It was a special "downtown" style, lounging on the stone slabs, sipping foreign champagne and wines-to have what Azeem prefers, "A happy buzz". His second show held at The Taj, was in general opinion, "The show of the millenium".

"I wanted my show to be an experience and full of drama, with the models draping the clothing differently, like wrapping the materials around their head," said Azeem.

"Sarees are very sexy but don't show anything. I teach my client how to wrap the saree. You must wear my clothes with an attitude, and appreciate the bizarre. Sometimes at a party, if I see a woman wearing one of my designs, she might apologize that she has not worn it with the same flair that I intended. My training with Geoffrey Beene taught me to mix all the styles to one to make one statement."

The collection was a dazzling array of the glittering and intricate Zariwala work and painted designs that are clearly unique. The price range of Rs. 15000 to Rs. 40000 appeared not too over the top.

Although Azeem has been asked to teach at NIFT, he has declined the academic route. But he does offer some advice for new designers. "My advice to young designers is to never copy. Always be original. Everyone has a certain style and you must bring that out."

That is the look - confident, different and full of style that Azeem Khan has now bridged from downtown New York - to downtown Mumbai.

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