Simplicity Trumps Minimalism: Payal Khandwala

Akanksha Kamath

First an artist then a designer, Khandwala today finds herself toeing the fine line between fashion and art. Having studied art at Parsons School of Design, New York, “painting was always my first love”, she says. You’ll find that her design sensibility takes technical elements from painting – “there is a balance between art and fashion – it all comes from the same point of expression and the editor is the same. The colour palette, concentration on proportions all overlap. However, it’s not literal in my clothes, I don’t slap on a print of my art. I want to keep the identities different, but it does slip over. Both are an extension of my personality”.

What led her to design? The fact that she never found clothes that ticked all the right boxes. The list goes in this order: simple, practical/comfort, luxurious, not too expensive (so you don’t feel you have to wear it till you die) and finally an element of surprise (creative yet accessible). And with this she finds a niche in the world of design at her quaint store in the heart of Colaba where she sells everything from clothing, jewellery and accessories, to her husband’s new leather accessory line ‘Tachi’.


I always like to have two things at any given point of time in my clothing. So it can have elements of menswear classics but shouldn’t make me feel any less feminine – I don’t want there to be less of anything. I’m not a minimalist, I’m a ‘simplist’. I don’t want to slip into the background yet I don’t want to make a statement. I prefer separates, so if I love a pair of pants I want to be able to wear them with many different things. I do love a bit of drama, a little something that’s unpredictable, be it in form or details.


I found this in a hole-in-the wall shop in Zaveri Bazaar at a shop where people come to sell saris for the equivalent of the zari (my haunt for beautiful vintage pieces that show up from time to time). I love that it’s so light and the use of the zari is so controlled and how it works so gracefully into the pallu from the sari. It’s falling apart now and I have bits of scotch tape stuck at its tears. I wore it with a simple long sleeved blouse during my wedding with antique silver jewellery but now I’m really into shirts (something that comes with having short hair I suppose) so I’d wear it with a shirt blouse. The fit of the blouse really matters, you don’t want it to be too loose or it will look sloppy, because a sari is envisioned to fit the female form in a certain way.


It’s one of my own and it’s something simple, non-fussed, easy-to-wash that I can go to work in. I love the confused silhouette that can’t decide what it wants to be, is it a kurta or a shirt? The details of the collar and cuffs make it off-the-centre, which in turn makes it all the more special to me. The best part? It goes with everything from pajamas to jeans. Sometimes I wear it over a colourful lungi-skirt.


These are my favourite jeans and I’ve had them for 10 years now. I bought them in three different sizes from a mini-mall in Hong Kong in 2004 because I was sure I would never find the same cut and wash ever again. This is the largest size that pass off as boyfriend jeans. They keep ripping so I add on fused patches on the inside that look like patchwork.


Funnily enough, most people think this to be one large necklace, but it’s actually two necklaces that I put together with a cowrie shell thread that I’m now too lazy to undo. I got them both from a souk in Istanbul where you find lots of tribal pieces. While, I found the silver cuff in Khan Market, New Delhi. It has all its dents and bumps and scratches that give it a whole load of character. I find the most stylish people around the world are the tribal folk. They don’t care about fashion, and the reason for their designs is based on a whole system of editing that keeps factors like location, money, exposure in mind; form follows function. So if you look at Rajasthan, you’ll see the beautiful desert landscape and then the vibrant colours in their clothes. Or take the Maasai tribe for instance, the reds and blues worn on chocolate skin are seen set against the backdrop of clear blue Kenyan skies.

As told to Akanksha Kamath. Payal Khandwala photographed by Shovona Karmakar.



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