Exclusive: Designer Payal Pratap launches a prêt line, Umbar
The designer's softly feminine, dreamy designs get an online update
Early in January this year, Payal Pratap found herself grappling with an unfamiliar bout of FOMO (fear of missing out) while looking to name her new diffusion line (it is now called Umbar). It had already taken three months of research and almost 2,000 discarded options to arrive at a shortlist that could “sum up the spirit of the line, make me feel connected to my roots, as well as compete with global brands on the web” — the 43-year-old designer hadn’t taken into account the internet’s vastness and the unhappy truth that someone has probably had all your great ideas first. All the names she wanted were taken. “I thought of Indian baby names, city names, pet names, village names… It was very depressing. How could there be no names left? Suddenly you think you’re not moving fast enough with the times; if I had done this five years ago I would’ve landed on the name sooner.”
Here’s the thing with FOMO (or just MO), though: usually you missed out because you were busy doing something more important. In Payal’s case, she was setting the foundation for the strong, distinctive, dependable brand she has come to be considered. Her deeply feminine clothes, full of gossamer Chanderis and mul muls, pretty cross-stitched flowers and bright, folksy embroidery take their cue from Indian wear, yet retain the functionality and ease of daily wear staples.
Payal has always taken her time. Consider that she was part of the same NIFT batch of ’94 that gave us veterans like Manish Arora, Namrata Joshipura, Himanshu and Dhruti Dogra as well as her husband Rajesh Pratap Singh — all of whose labels have at least a decade on hers. “I was cleaning up a drawer, and I found these strange photographs, where all of us were half our size and half our age. None of us had any money back then. Suddenly it hits you that these are very popular people now.” She chose instead to start her career at an export house in Okhla where she learnt the nuts and bolts of running a business — merchandising, pricing, supply…all the necessary evils for a creative person. Skills she was happy to share with then-boyfriend Rajesh, by helping him in her downtime and on weekends. By the time they got married in 1998, his label had become an all-consuming family affair and she took over the reins of the business for the next ten years. In the interim, she also had children Rudra, 14 and Manya, 12. Payal says she was a much better designer and businesswoman for it, just in time for the launch of her own label.
She made her runway debut at Spring/Summer 2013 at Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week in Delhi, after creating a small line for multi-brand store Ogaan a year earlier. The collection was playful and assured and full of her soon-to-be signatures. It was also surprising for its sharp contrast with Rajesh’s austere aesthetic. “Rajesh is very androgynous and he holds back on colour. But I wanted to do colour and gathers and panels,” she says. She grew quickly, staying consistently fresh and relatable season after season, and opening flagship stores in Delhi and Bangalore. And it wasn’t long before the limitations of physical retail — and the advantages of an online presence — became obvious to her. Stores could only reflect a fraction of what was shown on the runway; and incumbent only on the discretion of the fashion buyer. Who could conclusively say the shopper wouldn’t be interested in a piece from summer in the thick of winter? Irrespective, the shelves need to be refreshed. “I just feel that so much effort goes into putting out a new collection, right from building an idea, doing research and sampling… that at the end you don’t end up using even 70 per cent of what you’ve done. You play around with so many swatches, colours, dyes, but how much can you put into one collection?” Umbar, she hopes, will be a catchall solution.
Think of Umbar, which launches this month, as Payal Pratap 2.0 — a distilled take on just everything we’ve come to love. It’s a deft mix of contemporary pieces: crop tops, pleated skirts, shift dresses and modern Indian wear, flared pants, billowy kurtas and tunics. She’s employed breathe-easy mill-made cotton, silk, taffeta, georgette and Chanderi blends, which work well all year round; it helps that they’re easy to maintain. Plus, it’s priced between Rs 4,500 and Rs 12,000. “I felt the need to do a line which was slightly cheaper, more accessible to people. It’s more relaxed, not fussy, yet it has the essence of Payal Pratap,” she says. The label will retail chiefly through her website. Will it be seasonless? “Absolutely. It can remain online for three months. I’m controlling the stocks — which is actually the scary part.”
Payal has speedily acquainted herself with terms like payment gateways, blogs and landing page optimisation over the past few months and is priming herself to think digital, to think younger. As for her FOMO, she’s employed Manya and her nieces, all bona fide online shoppers, to make sure she never feels it again. “I look back to when we were young, and I don’t think we were spending so much or paying so much attention to what we wore. But my nieces? They are so with it.” That’s her potential client. Just about any one of us who wants to keep up, but without always burning a hole in the pocket. The designer has readied almost 40 new styles, which will all be available for instant delivery. “Many websites selling designer wear make you wait three to five weeks. I don’t think anybody’s in the mood to wait that long for a shirt or kurta,” she says. These are a lot of big changes to squeeze into very little time — is she nervous? “I’m very excited as well as nervous because it’s new to all of us. We’ll wait to see where this goes. For me it’s going to be a year of learning.”
Umbar launches on May 7. Umbar.com
Photographs: Nayantara Parikh. Styling: Nidhi Jacob. Make-up and Hair: Deepti Jain Girotra. Models: Vikki and Lara/Anokhi Models; Assisted by Moumita Sarkar