UPDATE: This story was originally published on October 17 — but we can't get enough of her killer style!
At a loss every time you need to get dressed for a special occasion? It's time to meet Swathi Narra, the gorgeous cofounder of Luxemi, a fashion website that's a cross between Rent The Runway and Net-A-Porter. The twist? All of the oh-so stunning clothing and accessories are authentic Indian wares.
Think you can't rock this gorgeous, intricate garb? Guess again. According to Narra, all you have to do is add a handmade chain and a worn leather jacket…and wait for the compliments to start rolling in. In fact, the Wicker Park resident demonstrated exactly how she seamlessly blends together pieces from all-American brands like Marc by Marc Jacobs and vintage and accessories straight from Luxemi. Now that's luxe.
Photographed by Heather Talbert
Describe your style.
"It honestly depends on the day and my mood! I'm immediately drawn to anything with a global, slightly ethnic edge. I haven't met a mixed print I don't like — but I can also appreciate a good, clean line. I do like to be comfortable, though, so gone are the days where I'll suffer for fashion. It's just not worth it if I can't get work done!"
Swathi is wearing Marc by Marc Jacobs pants, an American Apparel shirt, Marni jacket, Shareen vintage scarf, J.Crew belt, and Dolce Vita shoes.
How do you go about finding the amazing designers you feature on Luxemi?
"We go to India quite often (as well as having a team on the ground there) and are constantly on the hunt for the best in Indian design. It's no secret that India is incredibly rich when it comes to craftsmanship and artistry. A lot of the artisans we work with come from generations of weavers and karighars (craftsmen), and we look for those individuals that create traditional items with a contemporary twist. So, on any given day, you'll find a great pair of earrings that you can easily incorporate with your favorite Helmut Lang dress — but you can also find a sari to rock at your best friend's wedding! Whatever it is, we make sure that all our pieces incorporate the best in classic Indian workmanship but still maintain a global, modern aesthetic."
Luxemi bangle and ring.
What is one piece of traditional Indian clothing that we can all easily incorporate into our everyday wardrobe?
"Tunic (kurti) tops. Throw them over a pair of leggings or a maxi-skirt with a cute belt, and you're good to go. Some are especially great as a swimsuit cover-up. My favorite look right now is pairing a sari blouse with a high-waisted pant or skirt. They key, though, is to only have the smallest sliver of your upper abdomen showing."
Your business focuses on gorgeous Indian clothing and accessories. What designers and styles do you like outside of this look?
"I'm really loving French designers lately — especially Iro, Maje, and, of course, Isabel Marant. But, my heart is big, so I've also got plenty of love for Rick Owens, Thakoon, and Vivienne Westwood, too!"
Swathi is wearing Joie boots, Iro black leather shorts, Gap sweater, and a Zara jacket.
Style rules: Do you have any? If so, what are they?
"I don't have any rules, per se, but I think whatever you wear, you've got to own. People always say to me, 'Only you could pull that off. I could never wear that.' But you can — if you wear it with confidence, then you can pull off anything."
Swathi is wearing a Luxemi necklace.
We want to rent one of the beautiful saris on Luxemi. Where should we wear it?
"Our customers tend to wear the more traditional items to Indian weddings, but we've had MANY customers wear our pieces to non-Indian events, too! Whether its a black-tie ball or a cocktail party, they just wanted something different that looked cool and modern and not your typical LBD. And, of course, we love when people it mix it up! Try wearing one of the longer salwars as a dress — or wear a hand chain with your worn-in leather jacket. I promise, you'll get a ton of compliments!"
Swathi is sporting a Chloé bag.
What is the greatest source of style inspiration for you?
"There was a six-month period where I was reading fashion blogs nonstop — but it got to be too much of a good thing. I find I get most inspired by my friends. I've got a lot of different circles, and it's always interesting to see how they're wearing something — or how they've decorated their homes."
Swathi is wearing Topshop pants, a rag & bone blouse, Max Mara jacket, and Phillip Lim shoes.
What are three pieces in your closet that you couldn't live without?
"Well, I definitely couldn't live in Chicago with out my Sorel boots — they've seen me through a snowpocalypse, so they've earned my loyalty. I also have a Breton-striped Petit Bateau shirt that always saves me in a style pinch. And, of course, my grandmother's vintage Indian jewelry. It just doesn't get any better than that."
Swathi is wearing a Cities in Dust cuff.
Who are your style icons?
"Diane Kruger because she's fashion forward without being contrived. Talitha Getty because she perfectly embodied that glamorous gypset vibe that I love. Kate Bosworth is also pretty amazing, too. And honestly, even though he's a guy, I'm kind of obsessed with Waris Ahluwalia. That man can dress."
Swathi is wearing Luxemi earrings.
What inspired you to start Luxemi?
"My business partner (and best friend), Swapna Chandamuri, and I started Luxemi because we lived the problem. We both grew up in Louisiana, and over the years, frequently attended events that required Indian clothing. If you've ever been to an Indian wedding, you know they generally last three to four days and require multiple outfits. It's not exactly convenient (or cheap!) to hop on a flight to India every time you need a new outfit — and there weren't any real online options."
"On the occasion that we did travel to India, we'd often pick up unique jewelry pieces or a fantastic little belt. All our friends back home would ask where we got it from and if we could bring more back!"
"We realized then that the problem was lack of access — both in proximity and price point. We wanted to create a platform that allowed everyone access to the amazing designs from India, but on their terms. That's why we offer both a rental and retail option. Our motto is 'buy the one you want forever, borrow the one you want right now.' You may need to only wear a sari once, but you might love owning a pair of great bangles to wear with everything."
Swathi is wearing a Gap T-shirt, Wish leather vest, Sonam Dubal skirt and tights, Luxemi necklace, vintage cuff, and a Zara bag.
What's your must-have item for fall?
"Sheer black tights. Once November hits, they'll be in heavy rotation."
What's your favorite fashion splurge? Bargain?
"Having a great coat can make an outfit and is worth spending a little extra on — especially when you consider CPW (cost per wear) here in Chicago! And I love leggings from H&M and American Apparel. They are my base to many a winter outfit."
Swathi is wearing Charles David shoes.
How does living in Chicago affect your personal style — or does it?
"It's funny, when I lived in New York and L.A., I didn't think twice about what I wore. I find Chicago to be a little more conservative and casual — but still pulled together. I also dress more for the weather here than I did anywhere else. Of course, maybe that's just because I've gotten a little older and wiser!"