IT is hard to believe the Payal Singhal label is 24 years old. While the designer herself seems like she is in her mid 30s, the clothes too are a riot of fun. Pretty pastels dressed up with imaginative but neatly lined prints and a tassel here and there, the Payal Singhal label is for ‘la bohème’.

But yes, 24 years, and, as the designer reminds us, three generations of being in design. Her grandfather JP Singhal was a painter and accidental photographer. The legendary filmmaker Raj Kapoor was so inspired by senior Singhal’s tribal women paintings, he modeled his Zeenat Aman for ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ to look like them. He even roped in Singhal to shoot the movie star as well as the publicity poster. Payal’s father Dinesh Singhal ran one of the most famous apparel factories in the country. Called ‘London Fashions’ his western and ‘Indo-western’ clothing chain became India’s first ready-to-wear chain of stores.

“The market was so nascent then, my father really was among the first generation of ‘designers’ as we now call them. I mean there was Ritu Kumar, Tarun Tahiliani, and Suneet Varma and they all made beautiful Indian clothes. My father designed apparel, which sold at Benzer and Amarsons and even Damini’s in London. I literally grew up at the CMAI fashion shows, and when I grew up I was very clear I wanted to be in fashion,” Payal, 46, tells me. By the time she was studying fashion at Mumbai’s SNDT, she was already selling clothes at a local Juhu store and earning herself a pretty packet of Rs 10,000-Rs15,000 per week.

She even dressed Aishwarya Rai when she was all of 15. “I had just finished my 10th standard and had applied to a Shoppers Stop advertisement for a design competition. I was shortlisted in the finals and was invited to watch the show. Aishwarya Rai was not a Miss India then, and she was wearing the outfit I had designed. It was a strappy anarkali with a shrug. Of course I won first prize, which I jointly shared with Payal Khandwala who was already a design student at the time,” Payal laughs.

Payal is in New Delhi as I write this, getting set to open her fourth store in India, at the chic Dhan Mill Compound. It has only been two weeks since she opened her second store in Mumbai, at the new design district that Kala Ghoda is now called. She’s also lived and sold in New York (“at Gramercy Park, mind you”, she laughs). But now has shifted base and business to India. “Once the child came along, I just couldn’t manage the long distances,” she fesses up. Her first Mumbai store, an itsy-bitsy space at Mumbai’s Altamount Road, is now 24 years old too.

It’s hard to see at first glance, but history and culture are constant reference points for Payal. “I don’t make Indian clothes because I barely wear Indian clothes. I will wear a salwar kameez only because I have to wear something Indian somewhere. I wanted to make clothes for women like me. It’s contemporary Indian clothing for South Asian women,” she says.

Islamic art and architecture is a consistent theme, but only in a very modern context. She will take a certain motif and use it in a minimal or geometric manner, that it seems festive and yet understated. “I loved the time when Mughal craft met Rajput craft, that design language really inspired me. For 25 years, I have read and researched Islamic art and tried to bring it out in a contemporary playful manner,” she says.

“I don’t like too many frills or too much fancy, so we have a very clean aesthetic. It isn’t boring but it isn’t over-the-top either.” Payal Singhal prints are something very special. They are high quality graphics but one that is an instant mood-fix. It would be easy to call her resort-wear but she’s so much more than holiday clothes. She’s an easy woman, who takes the weather with her wherever she goes. She brings sunshine into a room, along with a balmy breeze. There may also be tequila, but we’ll have to call that a full-throttle pool party then.

“I started prints in 2011 actually, and I was clear I didn’t want to be too traditional or too kitsch. The influences are more European, English vintage flowers and the odd birds and animals here or there. Nothing too quirky,” she smiles.

Payal has become the go-to designer for India’s fast growing figures of destination weddings. “Oh we excel at them. Mehendi and sangeets are our forte. Now everyone wants a theme at their weddings and they come to us for design stories. We keep things creative and playful, and people seem to love that,” she says.

The #PSGirl hashtag is a tribe of people. I don’t know how and where Payal started it but it has become a trend on social media. “I was called PS when I was living in New York. When Instagram was launched and when we came on to it, we started it as a hashtag. But it has grown so organically, my clients as well as content creators have just caught on to it so wonderfully. It has become a community, a movement,” she laughs. “And the content girls don’t even charge me. I’ve been supporting them long before anyone else did, so I have great personal relations with so many of them. They really are my girls.”

The Payal Singhal label is fully family-owned. “I like being in control,” Payal says. That said, she has been in talks with some investors, as the potential to scale her prints are immense, like an Indian Cath Kidston. She’s also dipping into accessories as an add-on, a hairband or a toilet kit or a scarf. “It’s a very small production, but I just don’t want fashion students to come to my stores and feel they can’t afford anything,” she adds kind-heartedly.