INFLUENCING FASHION WITH PAYAL SINGHAL
THE VOICE OF FASHION | Oct 10, 2023 | 0 | Read Full Article
On the cusp of a silver milestone, the designer makes big with an unapologetic commercial approach and influencer marketing
Last month, Payal Singhal hosted a floral-themed get-together to celebrate her new store in Delhi, situated inside the multi-brand retailer Ogaan at The Dhan Mill shopping compound. The compact 800 sq. ft. space is an extension of what the Mumbai-based designer’s retail spaces have come to be identified with. Flowers to decorate pink-washed walls? Check. Softly lit corners framing archival campaigns? Check. Tassels, beads and baubles? Double check. In the matrix of Indian fashion, Singhal, 46, has steadfastly committed to a design language which doesn’t steer too far from its norm. Guests at the event turn up in her clothes—shararas, cropped jackets, bustiers worn with roomy salwars—with dancing fringes, braided tassels and scalloped hems—an indie-resort aesthetic Singhal has developed over the years. At the store, she takes her bestsellers out from the rack: the ‘slim’ lehenga that falls like a tea-length skirt and a denim sharara that also comes in gleaming velvet.
Payal Singhal's new store at The Dhan Mill compound in Delhi.
Singhal is dressed in all black—an embroidered top and georgette joggers-cum-skirt, picked from her latest collection, ‘Modern Mughals’. The Generation MTV pierced eyebrow (she dressed television VJs back in the day) and a wide smile add finishing touches. One question raids her from every corner: “Why Delhi, and why now?” She dismisses it as quickly as it lands. “The city has always been a second home—I fondly remember it through my formative years in Hauz Khas Village,” she says, reminiscing the ‘golden age’ of the South Delhi neighbourhood which was once residence to premium fashion boutiques, including Singhal’s in the early 2000s. This was almost a decade after she launched her brand in 1999, and introduced her debut store at Altamount Road in South Mumbai. In 2024, she hits the 25-year mark in fashion.
Intuitive Product Design
The category of resortwear in India is sparsely populated. Emerging and mid-scale designer brands like Shivan & Narresh, Saaksha & Kinni and Guapa have made a mark with holiday-friendly clothing, and dipping their feet strategically in the wedding market. Singhal is among the earliest entrants in the category—(when it wasn’t even marketed as such) targeting a diverse range of buyers—travellers, bridesmaids and wedding attendees—with a strong connect with the South Asian diaspora.
The PS X Indya collection.
The global appeal of the clothes drives sales. Apart from seasonal trunk shows in Canada and the US, the designer inspires brand recall courtesy a store that she operated at Manhattan’s Gramercy Park till 2007. “When she launched in India, she brought a unique New York streetwear vibe to her clothes—and that continues to reflect in her designs today,” says Ambika Anand. The Delhi-based fashion consultant and TV anchor counts Singhal’s pre-stitched saris and kaftans as personal favourites. “If Sabyasachi rules the wedding lehenga in India, Singhal has come to ‘own’ the mehendi outfit,” she adds.
Over the years, the brand has grown, but some styles have remained consistent—like the one-shouldered kaftan and the kalidar (pleated) cropped kurta. “But nothing trumps the biggest movement for us in popularity—the blouse,” says Singhal. The PS choli is chameleonic…and it’s everywhere. Held together with thin doris strung with decorative tassels that fall to the hip, with front-tie ups, diving necklines, corseted and embroidered. Her prints have also become an essential part of the brand book featuring signatures like the ‘Khargosh’ (rabbit), the floral-psychedelic ‘Enchanted’ print or the chintz-inspired ‘Gulbagh’. Her collaboration with wallpaper giant Marshalls, introduced in 2019, opened the print files to the home category. While challenges of adapting to a rapidly evolving industry remains, Singhal aims to turn her gaze on a category she says she has subconsciously ignored—menswear.
The Payal Singhal blouse is a brand bestseller and continues to evolve in design.
Shilpa Shetty Kundra in Singhal's designs.
Aparna Badlani, Mumbai based consulting creative director at aza, identifies Singhal’s biggest selling point as her ‘India Modern’ aesthetic. “She has mastered the art of balancing traditional embroideries with modern silhouettes and vice versa. Many designers struggle to find this equilibrium, but Payal occupies a sweet spot for such clothes—and no one who is able to shake her from that position,” Badlani says.
Social Commerce and Community
With the new store at The Dhan Mill—now her only flagship in the capital (another at aza is a store-in-store)—the designer has kept up with the changing retail landscape of the city. In 2023, she also added to her oeuvre, debuting her first-ever jewellery collaboration with Jaipur based Sangeeta Boochra and a line of nude lipsticks with makeup brand Kiro Beauty. Amid these, the brand packed celebrity weddings and a new flagship in Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda.
Badlani credits smart marketing for Singhal’s enduring relevance. This includes not only catering to A-list Bollywood celebrities, but also to influencers, emerging stars and an Insta-popular crowd. The brand’s Instagram page (with 533K followers) is a window into consistent relationships with social media ambassadors. “Payal works as a community builder—her women-support-women stance and approachability is what makes me and many influencers collaborate with her frequently,” says Shrima Rai, Mumbai-based content creator who works with Singhal. Rai connected with her personally over entrepreneurial pursuits and motherhood; both are parents to teenage boys.
The Scale of Sales
Apart from flagship stores and MBOs (multi-brand outlets) across India, there are many who offer Singhal’s designs across the globe. These include retailers like BiBi in London, The Grand Trunk in California, The Mall at Oak Tree in New Jersey, nd/ny in New York and House of Raina in Vancouver. The outreach is strengthened by social media—spot Indian American dancer-sisters Poonam and Priyanka Shah in Singhal’s lehengas performing on the streets of Chicago or the Jikaria sisters—also US-based dancers—in the brand’s prints, busting some moves to promote an upcoming trunk show.
This coterie of #PS supporters is inspired by a strong familial-meets-business bond. Singhal is aided by generational learnings from her family that has been in the clothing manufacturing business for over 50 years. While her father, Dinesh Singhal founded garments company London Fashions in the ’80s, today, the designer’s mother, husband and brother are all partners in the Payal Singhal brand. The production headquartered in Goregoan, Mumbai, features a growing team, employing up to 200 people.
Natasha Moor, Kompal Matta Kapoor, Roshni Chopra and Nicole Mehta for ‘Painterly.’
“The PS Tribe is a pillar of the brand and stems from Payal’s own love for the free spirited individual—each person who wears her garments brings that to the fore,” says actor and host Roshni Chopra, who walked as a showstopper among a lineup of influencers for Singhal’s collection ‘Painterly’ at Lakmé Fashion Week X FDCI last October. Designer fashion can seem like an intimidating space, even alienating, but Chopra says that Singhal brings a sense of “belonging” to her brand language—for this, she remains “ahead of the curve”.