Derek Khan, a celebrated fashion stylist to hip-hop and R&B stars like Salt-N-Pepa, Pink and Lauryn Hill who later fell far from those glittering heights, died on Feb. 15 at a hospital in Dubai. He was 63.
The cause was complications of Covid-19, said Beverly Paige, a former vice president of publicity at the Island Def Jam Music Group.
Mr. Khan, a diminutive man with outsize charm and a high-wattage smile, presided over the marriage of pop music and high fashion that began in the 1990s. A creator of the over-the-top look known as “ghetto fabulous,” he persuaded rap stars to shed the street wear they were known for, dressing them in Fendi, Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana and bedazzling them with jewels from Harry Winston, Piaget and Van Cleef & Arpels.
When he was the in-house stylist for Motown, he was known as “Dolce” around the office, Andre Harrell, once the chief executive of that label — and a hip-hop star maker as founder of Uptown Records — told The New York Times in 2003.
Mr. Khan swathed Mary J. Blige in yards of white fur (accessorized with Fendi sunglasses and a Rolls-Royce) for the cover of her album “Share My World.” He introduced Pink to Chanel, and he oversaw Lauryn Hill’s haute bohemian look for her debut album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” which made her a Vogue darling.
He was a visual impresario of a cultural shift in the music business that put hip-hop front and center and made its stars into mainstream fashion avatars.
In the mid-1990s Ms. Paige of Island Records hired him to overhaul the look of the three young women who made up Salt-N-Pepa: Cheryl James, Sandra Denton and Diedra Roper, otherwise known as DJ Spinderella. The group was already wildly popular and would soon win a Grammy. Out went the eight-ball jackets and door-knocker earrings, which Mr. Khan, once a salesman at luxury boutiques, exchanged for Yves Saint Laurent tuxedos and ropes of diamonds.
“We were just regular kids shopping at Rainbow on Jamaica Avenue, and then Derek came along with his over-the-top way and said, ‘You don’t know who you are. It’s time to step it up,’” Ms. James said in an interview. “The music is important, but how you show up is important, too. He taught us to show up in the room.”
By the turn of the millennium, Mr. Khan was one of the most sought-after stylists in the business. And he was living as extravagantly as the acts whose images he was amplifying — hosting enormous dinners at Mr. Chow, flying first class and treating himself to $1,000 jars of Crème de la Mer face cream.
And then the bottom fell out of the music business. Music sharing platforms like Napster drained revenue from album sales. Music videos lost their luster. At the same time, artists who once doted on Mr. Khan found a new cadre of stylists to bedazzle them, and up-and-coming young artists had their own favorites.
Unable to sustain the lavish lifestyle he had built, Mr. Khan developed a dangerous habit: He borrowed jewels from Harry Winston and others, as he had long done, but instead of adorning his clients, he pawned the baubles for cash.
“After that first pawning I said I would never do it again,” Mr. Khan told The Times. “But then something would come up and I would need money, and then it snowballed.”
As the young fashion editor of Vibe magazine in the early 1990s, the stylist Stefan Campbell watched Mr. Khan’s dizzying rise. “As generous and creative as Derek was, he was straddling many worlds that he wanted to impress,” Mr. Campbell recalled. “He was introducing his young hip-hop clients to a whole new world of glamour, and he had to seem ‘of it.’ And in that world, generosity was expensive.”
Mr. Khan’s world came crashing down in 2003, when he was sent to prison for defrauding the jewelers. After he was released in 2005, he was immediately deported to his native Trinidad.
Then, in yet another reversal of fortune, Mr. Khan remade himself two years later in Dubai, initially embraced by a city where living large is a religion. His engaging smile beamed from the pages of lifestyle magazines there, and he signed a deal to design a line of jewelry.
“It was like a bank robber coming out of jail and becoming president of the bank,” he told an interviewer in 2019. “Life is something you can’t give up on. I am probably the luckiest person sitting here.”
Derek Khan was born on Aug. 21, 1957, in Arima, Trinidad, the eldest of three children. His mother, Zorina (Hanief) Khan, was a schoolteacher. He said he never knew his father, Patrick Kairool Khan.
Derek dropped out of high school a year before graduation to work at a television station and then moved to New York City, where he had always wanted to live. He stayed with an uncle. His first job was at a McDonald’s, but he quickly found his way into luxury retail, working as a salesman at Barneys, Gucci (where he sold umbrellas to Greta Garbo) and Givenchy.
There he waited on Jackie Onassis and Bunny Mellon, the heiress to the Listerine fortune and horticulturist (who famously designed the White House Rose Garden). He recalled admiring the way they chatted in French as they shopped, as well as Mrs. Mellon’s simple shift dresses, Jean Schlumberger bangles and flats, and the way she rode in the front seat of her Mercedes with her driver and bought garments in multiples, clocking a lifestyle that was at a level, as he put it, that seemed just right.
In the 1980s he was also part of the club world, one of a group of young, gorgeously dressed gay men beloved by the doorkeepers of Studio 54, the Paradise Garage and, later, the Sound Factory.
Mr. Khan hung out with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, danced with Diana Ross and met Madonna — and her young dancers José Gutiérrez and Luis Camacho, who were stars of the underground dance scene. Mr. Khan became their manager (they were not singers, but they made an album), and he dressed them, too, as he once put it, “dripping in sequins and bejeweled tights.”
Possessed of a kind of fatal optimism, as Mr. Campbell described it, Mr. Khan first went astray in the early ’90s: Caught selling borrowed clothing intended for the duo, he spent eight months in an upstate New York prison, a precursor to his larger fraud a decade later. After Mr. Khan’s release, Mr. Campbell remembered running into him at a party for the magazine editor Tina Brown, as effervescent as ever, though he was working as a waiter.
Mr. Khan returned to Trinidad in 2005 after his second stint in prison, stripped of his green card and with $10 in his pocket. A childhood friend, Cheryl Lala, then creative director of an advertising agency, hired him to style supermarket calendars and commercials for a chain of clothing stores. He threw himself into that work, Ms. Lala said, with his customary energy and good cheer.
And when another friend enticed him to move to Dubai, Ms. Lala was happy to pay for his ticket and his visa. There, the fate that was promised him — or that he imagined — never quite materialized. His jewelry line fizzled, as did a reality show and a book deal. But Mr. Khan made ends meet as a professional networker, organizing events, introducing powerful friends to other powerful friends and often relying on the kindness of those friends.
At his death, he was staying in a friend’s villa. He is survived by his sister, Wendy Kreuzer.
“I have been to the highest places, and I have been in jail,” Mr. Khan said in 2019. “I am blessed every day. I do not go hungry. I have a roof over my head and I have warm clothes.”
Mr. Khan, Ms. Lala said fondly, “could make macaroni look fabulous.”