Omar Khan Makes His Mark As A Luxury Rug Designer
Moss. River. Dwelling. The naming of things, a task undertaken by the Maker, doesn’t come naturally at all times.
“Some days are easier than others,” says Omar Khan about titling his works. “In what I like to call ‘Season One’ of Omar Khan Rugs, I immediately felt that they had individual personalities. Nomenclature not only imbues each rug with character, but also helps the public to identify them.”
Soft-spoken at first blush, Khan’s marked trait is his razor-sharp wit, which makes storytelling one of his strengths. “I went through a whole Greek god phase, so imagine rugs with names like Hephaestus. But when we had to sell the designs...” Out sneaks a sliver of Malaysian dialect: “Ah lah, nobody could spell them.
“Have you seen the one baptised My Little Bonaparte? It references Napoleon because the print looks like little Frenchmen telling you what to do.” His eyes twinkle mischievously. “My rugs are sometimes based on people I know, people I wish I knew, or people I wish I didn’t know.”
To Be Seen & Heard
Even if this personality profile marks your first encounter with Omar Khan, he has probably injected beauty into your life without you knowing it. A household name in fashion, interior design and hospitality circles, the artist’s oeuvre spans the globe, from Lane Crawford in Chengdu to Louis Vuitton in Shanghai and Beijing, the St Regis Maldives to the Andaz Hotel in Singapore, and the Grand Lisboa in Macau to Mono, Alan Lo’s new fine dining restaurant in Hong Kong. “Unfortunately, our most exciting projects can’t be named for privacy reasons,” says Khan with a coy smile. “Although our early stage saw a lot of architectural projects, we have ventured into private residences.”
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Like a French impressionist painting or a Jeroboam of XO cognac, an Omar Khan carpet is considered a prized asset. At the 2017 Ambassadors’ Ball in benefit of Design Trust, the hammer hit the gavel for one of Khan’s rugs prized at US$6,000. “Another one we pulled out of the hat!” he says offhandedly.
It was a sinuous path that led to Omar Khan Rugs becoming what it is today. Rewind to March 2014: the debut of Khan’s eponymous label at Maison & Objet Asia marks a pivotal point in his life. Born in Singapore, based in Malaysia, and bred in New York, the animation and graphic design graduate and former employee at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong had finally found his niche.
“Nobody else was designing statement rugs. I know this because I couldn’t find the perfect one.” Like fashion, an extension of oneself, rugs can make a sweeping statement in one’s home, he asserts. According to the artist, most anyone seeking out a classy carpet ends up settling for a Persian. “Which I love—especially in quirky colours—but is it me? I don’t think so,” says Khan pointedly.
Inculcating his works with his individuality has visibly worked, although it did take time to find his footing. “Season One was me figuring out the story I was trying to tell, and realising that what I actually needed to do was to listen more,” confesses the artist. “Instead of me trying to impose by saying, ‘I think this would be great in here!’, I now listen to the clients’ stories.” Even-tempered and emotionally intelligent, Khan became a better creator by becoming a better communicator. “The big lesson that I took away is this: at the end of the day, we all just want to be heard.”
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Yoga, a quotidian practice in Khan’s life, keeps him grounded in the midst of client demands and pressing deadlines. In fact, office hours don’t kick off until after his morning routine with renowned yoga instructor Sandra Woo. “We put together a practice before pencilling in some time for meditation,” he intones serenely. “It’s a really wonderful way to offset whatever crazy situation comes your way.”
Today’s ‘situation’ sees him wriggling into a gold Khoon Hooi jumpsuit, which is evidently a real treat. “I find that I don’t have enough moments to wear high fashion, only because everything is so utilitarian these days.” Both ‘a Casio and a Rolex kind of guy’, the down-to-earth yogi usually dons athleisure on a day-to-day basis. “Such apparel can bring me from a social situation to the office and back to the gym, which seems to be the norm nowadays.”
Citing the Lululemon community as one of his rocks, Khan is careful about the friends that he keeps and his circle of acquaintances. “Having spent time in New York, I discovered a certain culture where you choose your own coterie. You edit, you curate, you grow and you learn that if you and a friend can both move past certain issues, you will cherish each other more.”
Bloodlines & Beliefs
The second eldest child of four, Khan often mulls over familial relations. “There is a mill we work with out of India, which specialises in hand-knotted carpets. We try to keep the same family working on the same loom. ” As we learn, rug-making allows for a husband and wife to work in the same industry, which is a very rare thing. “It’s where they’re treated as equals, first and foremost,” says Khan. “Like in every marriage, however, if things are going well, work goes well. Whereas if they’re in a fight, their lines will sort of…” He gesticulates, as if to demonstrate fabric unravelling.
Family dynamics orbit a rug even after product completion. “How you present a rug in a family home is definitely a conversation between the partners of a space,” explains Khan, who looked upon his nieces and nephews as muses for his Grey Matters collection. In his words: “Whenever there’s an opportunity to design a rug with my family in mind, I seize it.” Akin to an animated film with a few inside jokes for adults, the said collection is family-friendly, but threaded with sophistication. “Sometimes parents are so set on acquiring a statement rug for their home that they miss out on all the soft touch points for their children.”
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A tight-knit bunch, the Khan clan is primarily made up of property moguls, and has ties to royalty through marriage. Nevertheless, the designer decided to strike out on his own from the start. “I didn’t resonate with anything that the rest of the family was doing, and if you fall into a family business, you must have the power of mind to subscribe to it full-heartedly,” says the artist of the family. “Sometimes honouring a legacy is about forging your own, so your legacy sits at the same level as theirs. I think that by diversifying your legacy portfolio, it’s more respectful to a certain extent.” A prime example of second and third generation members branching out from their family firms, Khan lays down his credo: “Legacy is what you make it. You can learn from long-standing legacies, but I’m of a generation where things are different now. Instead, we fashion our own.”
Does it plague him, a desire to leave his mark on the world?
“I’ve never set out to do so,” answers Khan gently. “I simply followed my passions, which are fashion and design. I followed beauty. Everything else is accidental. Serendipitous. Fated. Even when the world is spinning around, stay true to your personal compass.”
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- Photography Kim Mun
- Styling Sarah Saw
- Grooming Gavin Soh