When fashion designer Naeem Khan and his wife, Ranjana, throw a party—15 for dinner one night, 100 for cocktails another—they focus as much on the food as the style. At a New Year’s Eve bash in their Manhattan loft, they serve tender osso buco at an elegantly dressed-up table.
If designer Naeem Khan’s New Year’s Eve party is any indication, fashionistas really do care about food. His guests, a mix of fashion, music, art and design types, gathered in clusters on low sofas in his New York City loft to share little plates of antipasti: the crunchy, lemony Sicilian rice balls called arancini; crostini topped with caper-studded eggplant caponata; and utterly addictive fried baby artichokes sprinkled with Parmigiano. As they ate, they praised both the food and the fashion at the party, particularly a Naeem Khan dress made of featherweight nude tulle covered with rose- and sapphire-colored stones. "Naeem, I need to wear that dress," exclaimed Donna D’Cruz, a party DJ and the wife of Tommy Boy Records founder Tom Silverman. "It’s a bombshell. Boom!"
Khan, a Mumbai native, who dresses Princess Aga Khan and pop singer Beyoncé in his gowns, is famous for his exuberant entertaining style. And for his stamina: Khan and his wife, Ranjana, the head of an embroidery company that does work for fashion houses, throw parties at least once a week. At dinners for up to 15 guests, Khan often will cook Indian dishes such as ground rib-eye kebabs marinated in a dry rub that his mother sends him from India. When entertaining as many as 100 guests, which he does roughly every other month, he usually hires D’Orazio Food Events, the catering arm of the restaurant Palma in Manhattan; D’Orazio also supplied the delicious Italian food for his New Year’s Eve party. At these big parties, Khan sometimes asks guests to come in costume (the theme of his 20th wedding anniversary party was Hollywood meets Bollywood; he went as Zorro). "I love the idea of people getting their creative ya-yas off," he explained. "We’ve been doing these kinds of parties since the Studio 54 days, so it’s in us."
Indeed, Khan, who moved to the United States in 1976 and worked as an assistant for Halston for three years, embodies that fun-loving, anything-goes Studio 54 spirit, but in a warm, intimate way. "His parties are exquisite," said Maria de Madariaga, an art consultant and a guest at the party. "The food is incredible, the atmosphere is mellow and there are always interesting people. My husband and I met the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly here once, and another time he sat next to actress Patricia Clarkson at dinner. And you get a little gift when you leave." Khan’s luxe party favors—tonight he’s offering the women long silver-and-bone necklaces from his forthcoming jewelry line—are inspired by the Indian tradition of giving presents at dinner parties. "It’s a way to say that I’m thankful we’re all here together," Khan said.
The vast rectangular living space in Khan’s loft has loungelike seating areas on either end and a modern, open kitchen and dining area in the middle. The centerpiece is a Balinese teak dining table that seats 18 (designed by Andrianna Shamaris, a guest at the party whose eponymous store is down the street from the apartment). A Peter Beard photo collage of African animals hangs above it; a Hunt Slonem painting of monkey faces is near one end. Khan also owns a series of Andy Warhol silkscreens, a memento from his Studio 54 days. ("We had a close friendship," he said. "I traded him some pieces of Indian art for them in 1980.")
The mood this New Year’s Eve was glamorous and playful. Guests talked about seeing the Dalai Lama in person ("He’s short, he shuffles in, and time stops!"), the latest hotel boîtes and literary blogs and, of course, clothes. "I need a fitted top with a low neckline because the skirt I’ll wear it with is pouffy," Kerry Mertlick, who works in interior design, told two friends. "I want sex on top and business on the bottom." Khan, dressed in a boldly patterned Jean Paul Gaultier shirt and jeans, kissed cheeks and snapped pictures of himself with his friends. His outfit was deliberately casual on a holiday that’s usually associated with tuxedos and gowns. "I don’t like to be more dressed up than my guests," he said. "This gives them the option to take off their jackets and be more relaxed."
Later, everyone moved to the table for the main course: tender braised veal osso buco, saffron risotto and sautéed broccoli rabe with crushed red pepper. To set the table, a candlelit vision in silver and white, Khan had round place mats specially made for the party—from the same sterling silver paillettes he used in his spring 2007 collection. "My collection was all chic opulence, glitz and gleam, so I thought, Why not?" Khan said. Bursts of white berries ran down the center of the table, and between them lay an array of silver coasters, raw crystal votive holders and cut crystal candlesticks with a shooting star design on their stems. "I’ve collected my tableware over many years," he said. "I bought these Rosenthal stars in Germany in 1979, put them in a box and just recently found them. Tonight is the first time I’ve used them."
After a dessert of cartellate cookies sprinkled with lemon zest, cinnamon and powdered sugar and demitasse cups of tiramisù, Khan—ever the ringmaster—stood, clapped his hands and announced, "Meredith’s got an amazing voice, and she’s going to sing for us." To a chorus of spoons tapping on wineglasses, guest Meredith Shanley performed a sultry a cappella rendition of the Melissa Etheridge song "Come to My Window," and the concert portion of the evening began. Back in the main sitting area, guests took turns standing in front of an enormous Hunt Slonem painting of colorful parrots, singing classics like Patsy Cline’s "Crazy" and Dean Martin’s "The Glory of Love." The audience, shoes off and legs in lotus position on the sofas, applauded like crazy, and the host lay back comfortably with a glass of red wine. "I come from a family of 13," he said. "Every other night there were festivities with my brothers and their wives and kids. I miss all that. To me, this is like having a family here."
Jennifer Tung is senior beauty editor at In Style magazine and a frequent contributor to the New York Times.