What Makes Payal Khandwala’s Aesthetic So Unique?
Her approach to dressmaking involves an unfettered attention to detail and ‘simply a shift in canvas’ from painting, a passion that she has pursued since she was seven years old. The Parsons School of Design graduate emerged on the Indian fashion scene in 2012 with a distinct point of view, which soon struck a chord with designers, consumers and buyers. This watershed event arrived in Khandwala’s life when an opportunity to show at Lakmé Fashion Week arose, and in spite of being a full-time painter, she launched her label instinctively. Today, within a short span of four years, she has managed to carve a niche for herself by bringing a refreshing brand of clothing to the consumer.
Khandwala’s first stint with fashion began in the early ’90s — possibly the worst decade for fashion, in her opinion, but also the best time to make as many faux pas as possible. “I designed an outfit — if you could even call it that — for my school farewell party when I turned 16. It had everything I detest — shiny black satin, gathered net, puffy sleeves…but since it was such a disaster, luckily for me, the only way was up,” she admits. For anyone who is acquainted with her work, it is very easy to spot in the sea of sameness that dominates both fusion and traditional wear, because of her thoughtful approach. “I start with a point of inspiration — it could be anything: a carpet, a building or an artwork. I map out a colour story, explore new shapes, push old ideas further, develop textiles to support the new collection, design the accessories…I can almost always visualise the collection in my head,” she explains.
This process also translates into her Spring/Summer ’16 collection inspired by her daughter. “Quite simply, it was her homework assignment that motivated me. She was learning about shapes and I thought it would be a great way to visit the good old geometry box. Ergo, two-dimensional shapes — circles, triangles, squares, rectangles and parallelograms — were explored to create three-dimensional silhouettes such as skirts and dresses along with brass and leather accessories. “We also handcrafted silk saris, brocades and other textiles using diagonal patterns in our weaves to support this central idea,” adds Khandwala.
Her design intent is to keep things strong, simple and sensible, with a focus on colour, cuts and proportions, resulting in the perfect combination of luxury and comfort, drama and subtlety. Equal parts feminine and fierce, Khandwala’s work consistently proves that “less can definitely be more”. And talking about her trademark elements — sharp geometrical cuts and sophisticated volumes — she goes on to explain how her eponymous brand has evolved. “I think our clothes have become less intimidating and more inclusive over the last few years. I learn a lot from the feedback we get from our customers and I try to keep in mind how to make my product more accessible to different types of women from different geographies, ages, occupations and of different shapes and sizes, while retaining the DNA of the label. Maintaining that balance is tricky, but it is also challenging and really pushes me to innovate within the parameters of our aesthetic,” she says.
Khandwala, who has extensively showcased her paintings at various galleries in Mumbai and New York, finds that her work as a designer is greatly influenced by her relationship with art. “I’ve painted my whole life, and I have a degree in fine arts, so my preoccupation with colour, composition, the human anatomy and proportions is integral to how I approach clothing, drapes, contours of the body, space and the relationship between all these elements. For now, art definitely informs and guides my clothes-making, subliminally and by design, but I’m curious to see when the reverse will happen,” she says, also cautioning that there’s “no point in making beautiful and artistic clothes if they can only hang in a gallery or in a museum. In the end, the consumer must not only appreciate them, she must also want to buy them, wear them and live in them. The artistic elements give fashion an undeniable spirit and soul.”
The urge to go off the beaten path has garnered quite a fan following, and her decision to focus on personal style over trends adds timelessness and modernity to her clothes. “To me, the clothes have a distinct signature because I design them myself. This is what people respond to. The vision is not fractured because it comes from a single and focussed point of view. I think the colour palette — our most obvious differentiator — and the shapes are what set us apart. I explore and experiment continuously but it’s a personal journey, more to do with my dialogue with drape, pattern making and textiles, than with what’s au courant,” she adds. The proportions of her silhouettes thread together a cohesive narrative that provides harmony.
After designing her recently launched flagship Mumbai store in roughly five weeks — she oversaw every detail from the space to picking the hinges, hangers, shopping bags and fragrance for it — her brand is only getting stronger. In a short while, Khandwala has located the pulse of the contemporary stylista and is gearing to shake up wardrobes in not just the country but internationally too.
The roots of her aesthetic become clear when she goes on to define her relaxed and sophisticated style, “I respect comfortable clothing. I don’t like ensembles that are fussy and I’m not hung up about looking like a princess. I think one can be dressy but also free-spirited. Plus, I don’t take fashion or myself that seriously, what I wear reflects my mood. I also stick with what works for me — I’m not a slave to trends.” Strikingly minimalistic in her work and personality, nonchalant towards bling and anything flashy, she remains loyal to the post-modern woman.