Swathi Narra and products from Luxemi

Swathi Narra (left) created web-based Luxemi, where customers may borrow or buy the latest luxury Indian-inspired apparel and accessories. Pictured right are a few select products from the website. (Portrait credit: Heather Talbert / September 2, 2013)

The first time I met Swathi Narra, I admired her unique sense of style. Effortless, bold and confident, it exhibited her personal taste -- a subtle mix of her Indian heritage with contemporary American appeal.

The second time I saw Narra, during Lollapalooza weekend, she easily distinguished herself apart from the thousands of t-shirts and booty-shorts festival-goers fashioned. Her breezy frock in vibrant, royal colors paired with hand-made, high-fashion Indian-inspired jewelry made her look like some sort of goddess/rock star hybrid.

While she now manages to make fashion look effortless, it wasn't always that way. Narra and business partner Swapna Chandamuri grew up in a rural Louisiana town where Indian clothing was scarce. That's what inspired them to launch Luxemi, where customers may borrow or buy the latest luxury Indian-inspired apparel and accessories.

"Think of it as Rent the Runway meets Shopbop, with an exotic Eastern flair," explains Narra.

The duo conducted extensive market research before launching Luxemi, and during the process they discovered that the need for such a service was in greater demand than they ever imagined. The way women bought Indian clothing was antiquated, she says, and many times much of it was outdated. "Whether they (customers) borrow a saree straight off the runway to wow at an Indian wedding or buy a striking pair of earrings to breathe new life into their everyday wear, women everywhere can rely on Luxemi to infuse a little ethnic luxury into their personal collections."

Narra adds that her customer base goes beyond the Indian market because of the popularity of ethnic trends in fashion. It's mostly comprised of non-Indian Americans who love global fashion and design.

"These are women who love Indian craftsmanship with a modern spin and want to incorporate it in their Western wear," she says.

Most recently, Indian influences have been seen on the runway in Chanel's Paris Bombay collection, in Selena Gomez's "Come & Get It" music video, and on the pages of O and Ebony magazines.

According to Narra, Luxemi's best sellers are accessories such as hand and head pieces because they're unique, affordable and great conversation starters. Prices for accessories start at $28 (for rental and retail); apparel starts at $20 (for rental; retail starts at $98).

For fall/winter, she recommends a few key fashion-forward looks:

  • Layering long brocade jackets and waistcoats over lehenga (full skirt)
  • Color blocking & mixed prints are still going strong
  • Bold clutches or embroidered shawls and play mix and match with your favorite pieces


Here's a look at some of Chicago Shopping’s favorite boutiques for ethnic-inspired fashion in Chicago:

Atelier Azza: Influenced by her Middle Eastern roots, rising star designer Azeeza Khan has opened a luxury boutique for her collections in the 900 Shops. The showroom sells ready-to-wear and couture clothing made with Khan’s distinct motif hand embroideries. 900 N. Michigan Ave., 312-915-3916

Fair Earth: Located in the Andersonville Galleria,the eco-conscious boutique sells fair trade clothing, jewelry, scarves and handbags made by East African women. Some items utilize recyclable materials. 5247 N. Clark St., 312-714-4493

Kayra Imports: Looking for traditional West African fashions for the family? The South Side institution not only carries clothing for men, women and children, but its staff also custom designs your outfit. There are also authentic African print fabrics (kinte, mudcloth) for those who’d rather make their own clothes. 1643 E. 87th St., 773-768-3003

Kilimanjaro International, Inc.: The Hyde Park shop features fashionable African clothing and accessories, including dresses, jackets, jewelry and handbags. Many of them are handmade. 1305 E. 53rd St., 773-324-4860

Saahil Exclusive: Traditional Indian apparel for the family is featured, plus a number of essential accessories needed for those attending weddings. 2605 W. Devon Ave., 773-338-3636