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Couture is about understanding the person you're designing for, says Payal Jain

The designer on completing 30 years in the industry, bringing art and fashion together, and what inspires her

By Payal Jain
By Payal Jain

To mark 30 years in the industry, designer Payal Jain showcased an exhibition last week in Delhi that brought together art and fashion.

The retrospective show, titled Soul Of A Woman, included 30 pieces, all made of discarded textile waste and each representative of her work in the past three decades.

In an interview with Lounge, she talks about her journey, the exhibition and what inspires her. Edited excerpts:

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Could you tell us about the idea behind Soul Of A Woman?

The past 30 years of knowing, watching and understanding each of the special people I have had the privilege of dressing brings me a deep sense of joy. This experience drove me to articulate the real connection we have through the medium of art and fashion. Hence, this show is called Soul Of A Woman.

I believe couture is about perceiving and understanding the person I am designing for, to get a glimpse into their heart, mind and soul, and understand who they really are, and what is special and unique about them. To be a designer, is to create something special and personal, which speaks the language of their soul and expresses their uniqueness. I don’t believe, as a designer, it is my right to tell you how to dress, but as an artist it is my responsibility to see the light of your soul, to give it form, colour and shape through your own personal sense of style.

From runway shows to engaging in artistic dialogues with weavers to creating corporate designs, what inspires you?

Design is an evolving process for every creative person, and an integral part of the journey, which facilitates growth and evolution of a designer’s individual handwriting. I am grateful to have had the opportunity of working across varied realms, from haute couture to pret and diffusion collections, to corporate design and lifestyle products.

The inspiration always stems from art and artistic explorations, which then translates into a canvas of textile, colour, texture, silhouette and surface treatment. The expectations and requirements may vary between couture and corporate design, but the medium remains common, as does the fact that people are the essence of design, and how they feel about what they wear is crucial to the process.

From 'Soul Of A Woman'
From 'Soul Of A Woman'

How do you view the synergy between fashion and the arts?

As I begin my 30th year in the glittering world of fashion, I can only look back and see how much of my work has been influenced and inspired by art and artists, from Renaissance to Cubism, Neoclassical, contemporary art, exploring dance forms to studying world history and architecture. To me, fashion has always been a form of art, and textile, my first love and favourite medium of expression, but I felt a burning desire to express these emotions in mediums outside of my comfort zone, to explore and experiment with mediums such a metal, wood, paper, shola wood and bamboo, and marry them with textile, yarn and craft, breaking stereotypical boundaries. This retrospective show is an expression of my design aesthetic, as I envision it, in my very own language.

A lot of your work has been inspired by Tagore’s poetry…

I grew up listening to Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry from my father, and heard stories about Shanti Niketan from a very young age. A lot of my work has been inspired by the magical words of Tagore, and the world he so vividly creates through his poetry and short stories.

The visual impression I had all these years about the free-spirited, open and inclusive style of teaching and the deeply inspiring art college perfectly fit into place when I first set foot. I was simply blown away by the creative authenticity I witnessed, the freedom to express any idea or emotion, through any medium or canvas. That's what inspires me till date.

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