There are bars of music skimming the air, crossing over from the store into the Nico Caara café hat is an extension of the brand Nicobar. Images of the ocean, the of the sea in a shell, tropical living, cabanas, languor, are all part of their design ethos. When it was founded in 2016, they wanted to give Indians a lifestyle design studio that focussed on travel, home, and fashion accents. Raul Rai (an investment banker turned design retailer) and his wife Simran Lal (also CEO of Good Earth) co-founded Nicobar and envisaged it as a modern Indian brand shaping culture through thoughtful design. At a time when less is more and people are de-cluttering with a passion, how do you create products that are utilitarian and have a conscience? The brand decided that it needed to be everlasting and based on mix and match so consumption’s limited. 

Nicobar was founded to give India an alternative to fast fashion but over time there was a sense that one needed to establish an India design signature outside the country in order to be feted back home. This led to the first Nicobar store being set up at Soneva Sushi in the Maldives this July.

Nicobar’s design philosophy has two stands; mindful design and products that have a tropical, modern design signature. Rai says, “We want to do what Ikea did for Swedish lifestyle Muji did for Japan, and Geoffery Bawa did for Sri Lanka. We want to help interpret a tropical, modern lifestyle.”

The kulhar remains one of the brand’s most iconic designs and can be used to serve sake Japan or espresso in Italy. Similarly the Indian spice box and roti box which Nicobar recreated in brass and wood are global as someone said, “they can be used for dimsums too.”Other signatures include brass and steel thalis and the salt and pepper elephant shakers. In clothing, the Nico dress is a design signature. 

Rai says, “Design needs versatility. Our weekend trouser is inspired by the dhoti and allows the world to sample our culture without having to wear ethnic clothes.” While Simran Lal does all the ideation and puts the mood board together, the brand’s biggest strength is its design team which understands the Nicobar way of life and is happy interpreting that through the products. With 14 stores across India and the Maldives, what next for the brand? “We want to be in safaris in Africa, Bali, Turkey, Nairobi; places where the brand is in sync with its surroundings,” says Rai.

—Prachi Bhuchar

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