By Samantha Critchell
The Associated Press
First lady Michelle Obama chose to wear a gleaming silver-sequined, cream-colored gown last Tuesday night to the first state dinner held by her husband’s administration. She was tending to her hostess duties in a strapless silhouette with the beads forming an abstract floral pattern that was custom-made by Naeem Khan. She wore a matching wrap, a stack of bangle bracelets on her wrist, and dangling earrings.
The guests of honor at the dinner were Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife, Gursharan Kaur, making Obama’s choice of the Indian-born, U.S.-based designer seem appropriate.
For a preview of the event, Obama wore a skirt by Rachel Roy, also an Indian American. “That gave us a preview that she was going to use clothes to convey a meaning,” said Mary Tomer, author of the new book, “Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy.”
“They were really thoughtful choices,” she said.
“The nice thing about it is the Jackie Kennedy sort of appropriateness. Most people wouldn’t know one way or another about Naeem’s background, but if one sentence gets mentioned to the prime minister, then her subtleness would pay off,” added Hal Rubenstein, fashion director for InStyle magazine.
Khan told CNN’s Larry King that his goals were to dress the first lady in something “Indian, chic, simple but very glamorous.”
Rubenstein said he was impressed that Obama used her fashion knowledge to choose a sophisticated and regal style that paid homage to India without wearing a traditional sari-style dress, which could have come off as a costume next to India’s first lady.
“I think she looks fabulous,” said Tomer. “She walked out in something that’s figure-flattering and chic. Naeem’s work is known for glamour and embellishment and this dress seems to embody that. She’s sparkling and radiant.”
Designer Khan is no stranger to helping women make a grand entrance. He has become a fixture on the Hollywood red-carpet circuit.
He has dressed Beyonce, Carrie Underwood, Katherine Heigl, and even Queen Noor of Jordan. Obama’s gown took three weeks at the designer’s family workshop in India — with 40 people working on it — to complete, Khan said.
Of Obama, Rubenstein said, “She looks like she’s worth her weight in solid gold. What I love about her is that it’s a pleasure to watch a woman of size and stature not apologize for her height and know how to stand tall.”
President Barack Obama also drew Rubenstein’s praise in his classic-style tuxedo. “I often feel Obama’s suits are too big on him, but I think he got a new tux.” ♦
Naeem Khan was born in India and grew up surrounded by design. He cultivated his knowledge of textiles under the watchful eyes of his grandfather and father, both well known in India for designing intricate clothing worn by royal families.
As a child, he was mesmerized by the handwork produced in their workshops, and always knew he wanted to be a part of their intensely visual culture. As a teenager, Khan moved to the United States and apprenticed for Halston. He learned the secrets of draping and cutting fabric to create a clean, elegant, and timeless silhouette. Between the equally opulent but aesthetically opposite worlds of his father and Halston, Khan’s style was nurtured and his aesthetic was born.
For more information, visit www.naeemkhan.com.