As Waleed Khairzada and Julia Jentzsch sipped cocktails together on the rooftop of Soho House early last summer, they experienced the fashion industry’s equivalent of love at first sight. Khairzada had been looking for a collaborator to launch what he calls “a new luxury American brand” and Jentzsch was consulting for Vera Wang, on the lookout for her next gig.
Barely into their second round, the two realized their partnership was meant to be. “The conversation was like, ‘Oh, you like this, too? And have you seen this exhibit? Oh, you saw that, too?’ It’s such a happy moment when you meet people who actually understand you,” said Jentzsch.
Khairzada seconded that emotion: “The connection was on so many different levels,” he said. “I had met a couple of other people, but after Julia and I talked, there was just no question.”
Realizing there was no reason to wait, Khairzada and Jentzsch launched Naum just a few months after their rooftop meeting. (The label is backed by silent partner Kosta Naum, a Hawaii-based private investor who had been looking to start a fashion company.)
The designers’ shared sensibilities encompass a passion for everything from technology to architecture, Richard Serra’s art to Martha Graham’s pioneering dance. They have woven many of these same elements into their collection.
“I’m really inspired by the way that things are cut,” said Jentzsch, pointing out that there isn’t a single piece in the line with a straight side seam. Instead, seams curve from back to front, creating three-dimensional forms and giving the unadorned clothes a deceptive simplicity. The back seam of a coat, for instance, spirals around the sleeve, while a wool skirt is crafted from multiple overlapping panels, with two slivers of aluminum embellishments that run along the hip.
Khairzada showed off a pair of jodhpurs cut from an innovative cotton stretch fabric with 100 percent recovery. “You’ll never have a bagged-out knee,” he explained.
Naum’s wholesale prices start at $170 for a Sea Island cotton shirt and top out at $2,125 for a coat in Tasmanian double-faced wool.
These are not clothes for hip, young things. Instead, the Naum collection brings to mind the forward, classic spirit of Jil Sander, and would certainly appeal to the same clientele. In fact, Jentzsch was given a stint at Sander’s Hamburg, Germany, studio after the company viewed several pieces she designed — some utilized light-up fibers and other high-tech materials — while at London’s Royal College of Art. She later worked with both Alber Elbaz and Tom Ford at Yves Saint Laurent, served as design director at Calvin Klein for two years and then moved on to Wang. Meanwhile, Khairzada spent 15 years designing for Harvé Benard, where he still works part-time.
Today, the marriage of fashion and technology forms a large part of Naum’s raison d’être. When Khairzada began his business plan in 2000, he was in discussions with Sensatex, a company that created the SmartShirt, a product that has the capabilities of absorbing the body’s vital statistics and uploading them to satellites. “I started to think, ‘Wow, that is going to be the next evolution,’” he said. “But I wanted to explore how those ideas could be used in the realm of luxury.”
Jentzsch agreed. “Our tailoring in the first season is very classic, but we’re looking at how you can take this into the future,” she said.
Along with ready-to-wear, the debut includes a small collection of shoes and boots that are designed by a friend who Khairzada and Jentzsch prefer to keep anonymous. In the near future, the pair plans to open an atelier and showroom nestled among the galleries of West Chelsea. As for long-term plans, the designers hesitate to lay out grand schemes. “If you had asked me four months ago, I could have told you the five-year plan,” said Khairzada. “But at this point, I think it’s best to take things one day at a time.”