"Fashion should be versatile. When you think of the dress today, you should be able to wear it to a wedding, to dinner, on Valentine's Day, Christmas, to meet your mother-in-law," asserts Farah Khan. She is, after all, a jet-setting multi-tasker herself. Not only is she president of The Melium Group, a luxury fashion and lifestyle group in Malaysia that has over 100 international labels in its stable, but she's also the designer of her own labels Farah Khan and FK.
Khan was recently in town to show her cruise 2012 collections at the local fashion trade event, Blueprint 2011, where ladies like Kelly Sia, Olga Iserlis and Celeste Basapa joined her in the front row. With its signature intricate embellishments, the Farah Khan label is made for style and versatility perfect for parties, while the second line, FK, offers simpler styles in jersey. Her Farah Khan dresses have been worn by several celebrities including Rashida Jones, Anna Kournikova and Rose McGowan.
Petite in stature but with plenty of personality, Khan's passion for fashion took root as early as during her childhood, as her mother owned a fashion business. And while most 17-year olds only have to worry about school and homework, Khan was already forging her path in fashion with the setting up of The Link in Singapore.
We speak to the stylish dynamo to unearth her motivations, inspirations and why it's important to get a good night's sleep.
Asia Tatler: Your mother was also in the fashion business. Can you tell us more about your own beginnings?
Farah Khan: My mother had a business called Le Bijou, and it was a Shanghainese-style store that tailored clothes. They used to have all the same expensive materials used by the big brand names. In those days, over 30 years ago, the women would have their dresses tailored. My mother had always been a luxury customer, with her Hermès and Prada. That all influenced me as a child. I started The Link when I was 17 years old, as I thought that ready-to-wear would be the big thing; that women were ready to have the best brands from Italy or France.
AT: What was it like, starting a business so young?
FK: It was ridiculous! I was 17 and I thought I knew what I was doing at the time. Now I look back and wonder how could I have done that when I was 17. But at that time it didn't seem so daunting. When I was in my twenties, I was dressing the most important women in Singapore who were on all the ‘best dressed' lists.
AT: How would you describe the Farah Khan style?
FK: I believe in the modernity of fashion and the Farah Khan label is a very modern product. The dresses live the life of a party girl. You can turn the dress inside out, pack it your suitcase easily, put it on from the boot of a car if you have to, and walk out looking instantly fabulous. We never used to fly around the way we do, but aviation today has taught us that we can have meetings in two parts of the world, and you need clothes that go with that lifestyle. On normal days, we might have just one minute to change and get out to an event. Every woman should have a couple of Farah Khan dresses in their wardrobe.
AT: What compelled you to start your own label?
FK: It happened by accident. If you go to a tailor it might not be what you want in the end, and I want to try on my clothes and know that they fit before I buy them. I run a business with over 100 labels, but as I grow older, I realise that I don't want to retire not doing anything. I created the label just for our own Malaysian business without thinking that it would be a global brand. But when we put it in the store to sell, it had the highest sell-through after many seasons. I thought, ‘Wow, maybe I have some talent.' So I thought about exporting the brand, and even while we were doing this, people were asking if they could buy the brand for their stores overseas.
AT: Where do you like to look for inspiration?
FK: Inspiration is around me, mostly from people. That's why each one of my dresses has a name. They're usually named after well-known people, but it could be anyone I meet. From all walks of life. I think there are millions of stylish people in the world, but I'm usually inspired by a particular photo of them, rather than every outfit they wear.
AT: What about cities, seeing as you travel so often?
FK: Paris always inspires me in terms of fashion. Everyone is there and in terms of luxury they really know how to play the game. But personally, I like the Italian style more - it's cleaner, more understated, and a lot depends on cut. Paris is more peculiar to creation. It is the birthplace of couture and most designers go towards that direction. I'm more of a modern designer, and I prefer more wearable luxury; the usability of the product - but still glamorous, of course. You can't wear couture everyday. Well, if you're lucky enough to be able to, fantastic, but not everyone can.
AT: What do you love most about fashion?
FK: I find fashion very fascinating because it's always changing. I don't like things that are the same old. Sometimes things change for the worst, sometimes for the better, but that's what's exciting right? The good designers and brands of the world keep their look, whether people like them or not. As a designer, you have to keep your signature look but always be relevant. You can't do the same thing all the time.
AT: The Farah Khan signature is using lots of embellishments - do you sometimes feel that this limits your designs?
FK: I have no desire to play around with too many things. I put a lot of research into my patterns, which come from history, botanical books, antiques, etc. It's like loving the same woman in a million different ways, or carrying the Birkin year after year. This is what I've understood as luxury: like doing the same bag but in different colours and shapes. I want these dresses to become iconic and for women to be able to depend on them as staples in their wardrobe. I want them to wear these dresses forever.
AT: Any advice for aspiring fashion designers?
FK: I never really went to design school. I was supposed to go to Central Saint Martins when I was 17, but I chose to get married, so here we are. I like to say that I come from the School of Hard Knocks. But I would say, absolutely go to school, intern at the best houses you can get into and learn the business.
AT: What would you say are your secrets to success?
FK: I have my hard days like everyone else, but I've always been forward thinking and positive. No matter what, I know that after a good night's sleep, nothing seems as difficult, So have perserverance and have a good sleep. What seems tragic today doesn't seem so tragic tomorrow.