Couturier J.J. Valaya is on a roll. He recently collaborated with Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth Carter for the Marvel film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and won the PETA vegan fashion award.
Black Panther is Valaya's second project with Carter after previously working together on Coming 2 America, starring Eddie Murphy.
In an interview with Lounge, the designer talks about his creations, the collaboration and experimenting with vegan silk in his bridge-to-luxury line. Edited excerpts:
How was the experience of joining creative forces yet again with Ruth Carter?
This is my second film with Ruth. The first one was Coming 2 America, and we did some fabulous work for that film too. Ruth approached us again to create looks for Angela Bassett's character in Black Panther. More than anything else, I found Ruth to be very humble, respectful and appreciative of all partners, which creates a wonderful environment to do incredible work. Needless to say, the experience was wonderful.
If all goes well, we'll work on another project too. Enrichment is an osmosis process when you are working from two different corners of the world on such a special project, which is so huge and all the work happens over calls, email exchanges and it's extremely gratifying to see the end result. The character, Queen Ramonda, was played by an accomplished actress Angela Bassett, which adds a lot of value. I feel clothes are eventually made by the wearer whether it's in real life or film. But to have someone with a strong personality like Angela was extremely humbling and delightful.
What attributes do you look for in a creative collaborator?
When you're partnering in doing something creative together, compatibility is crucial. With creative people at work, there are basic underlying principles. Firstly, humility must exist among both. Both partners must be highly appreciative of each other's works, must respect each other's skill set. Moreover, both need to keep in mind that the primary goal is always to create something that will leave a mark.
You’ve won the PETA vegan fashion award…
The PETA award came out of the blue. I was both surprised and humbled. When we decided on creating our bridge-to-luxury line, I was clear that we must take small steps towards caring for the environment and make sure we use fabrics which are eco-friendly. Being sustainable isn't a fashion statement anymore, but really the need of the hour and also the social and moral responsibility for all those who can make a difference. That's how it all started and I am glad that the line got accepted and received well commercially as well from the aspect of sustainability.
What exactly is vegan silk? How do you craft it?
TENCEL™ Luxe has managed to create interpretations which are luxurious, emit sheen and lustre of silk and at the same time, in some cases, it's even stronger than silk. That works beautifully. As the time goes by, there are going to be beautiful interpretations of the yarn, which will lend itself to even more luxury fashion and other areas. Right now we use it in our bridge-to-luxury line, but in years to come, it'll find its way into luxury line as well.
Also read: Weddings make couture tick, says JJ Valaya