JJ Valaya's vibrant vocabulary has always celebrated intrigue and symbolism with a recurring undercurrent of art deco influences. As the label clocks in 30 years, the couturier unveiled The World of Valaya, a new flagship store in New Delhi which brings together all the things he loves – be it his museum-worthy heirloom pieces, soul-searing photography, costume jewellery or footwear. Synonymous with a controlled palette, antiquated embroidery techniques and use of antique metals, Valaya's most defining insignia is the ‘shifting leaves chevron’, which is a curious mix of an art deco pattern and Indian royalty.
Valaya's Alika jacket, which was created 12 years ago, has stayed relevant and is a classic. Its younger sibling, the Ika jacket, is reversible — and can be worn with saris or jeans. similarly, the label's phoenix logo belt has become a key collector's item, sealing its reputation as a leading Indian couture house.
In an interaction with Lounge, Valaya the unapologetic maximalist talks about his digital foray, JJV, a new bridge-to-luxury label and the possibility of a corporate tie-up.
Thirty years is a huge milestone. How do you look back at your rich archival heritage? Is it a challenge to make it unfailingly relevant for Gen Z in the post pandemic world?
For me, personally, it’s 32 years, if I add my two years at NIFT, which was 1989 onwards. Even though the brand has completed 30 years in the Indian fashion industry, I still feel as if I am a student, learning, working on a new line, waiting to see the outcome first. If I can’t impress myself, it’s unlikely I’d be able to make others appreciate my work, so the energy and the excitement remains intact. From being a fashion student to launching this beautiful flagship experience store, it's been exciting and there's a lot to look forward to.
The young generation is a completely different ballgame as the mobile phone screen is their greatest connect. As a luxury brand, we should be able to strike the balance between creating beautiful physical spaces, which are experiential in nature and which speak more about the brand than the product, and at the same time creating a vibrant digital presence — that, I believe, is the core to staying relevant and enjoying the best of both worlds and that’s exactly what we are doing. We have a website which is getting powered even more and a vibrant Instagram presence and we are planning a lot of initiatives — physical and digital — so I guess we should be okay.
Bridal couture in India is densely populated with identical offerings. How have you managed to stay distinctive in a competitive wedding space?
Bridal couture is all over just like great Indian food is all over, yet there are a select few who stand out. It comes down to consistency in quality, which is going to separate the men from the boys, the chaff from the grain, and I think brands should be able to be consistent in their quality — which is our core. We create beautiful designs like a lot of people do and create wonderful spaces to showcase them in, we also do great photoshoots for people to connect with them on various levels, but above all it’s the product. When people come to experience the product, they realise it’s true couture — they see the level of craftsmanship that has gone into it, where the fabrics used are absolutely fabulous. We know and they know that if they invest in the piece today, it’ll endure the test of time and last many many years and can be passed on as an heirloom to the next generation.
There’s a sense of history, research and travel in every Valaya campaign rooted in embroidery techniques and a maximalist vibe. Do you feel pressured to convey your message to the digital audience who is used to eye-catching 30-second reels?
Research is my lifeline and that’s the part which is really exciting. When you travel, physically or digitally, you come across such beautiful surprises which can be interpreted into a new modern language and that’s something I do consistently. Yes, we are maximalist, but India is maximalist at heart if you look at our festivals, our complex foods. Look at our architecture, people carving away at stone to create these beautiful temples. How do we use this treasure-trove of inspiration and make it relevant? That’s where our heart is and that’s something we look forward to doing.
Many of your contemporaries have forged corporate alliances to bring out easy-on-the-pocket labels. Do you see yourself taking that route as well?
There’s never been a better time for Indian fashion and I am glad these associations are happening. A creative person trying to grow the business is always a bad idea. When a corporate entity comes in, things change as they look at the business side of it while the designer focuses on the creative part so it’s a win-win formula for both. Look at Louis Vuitton — the giant it has become today. This is the future but we are not looking at it now. Right now we are rediscovering ourselves, building a basic structure, and in the future we will look at associations which are healthy for growth — both creative and financial.
What makes the launch of World of Valaya significant as it comes at the same time when the brand clocks in 30 years?
The World of Valaya is extremely special and more so because an all-new flagship store comes to life after five years. Here we are with a brand new space — I personally get goosebumps every time I go there. It's a true labour of love. It's sheer coincidence that the new flagship is ready to be unveiled as the brand clocks in 30 years. It's a coming together of all things I love — be it couture, my photography, our precious jewellery, also a line of consciously made couture-inspired jewellery, a brand new JJV bridge-to-luxury label, footwear, and the JJ Valaya Museum where we will showcase the highest end of bridal couture. This 1200 sq ft space brings together all of my core elements to create something wonderful and which is close to my heart.
How’s sustainability imperative to your brand? How do you practise it?
As a couturier we’ve always been sustainable. People wear our heirlooms for years and rewear them. It’s fine quality and not fast fashion. Also, our bridge-to-luxury label JJV along with TENCEL™ LUXE is treading this path. It's friendlier, accessible and a contemporary interpretation of our sustainable ethos.
How do you inculcate the values of inclusivity in your canvas?
Inclusivity is not the need of the hour but the law of nature and I don’t think any of us are above nature. As a brand we embrace everything which makes everyone comfortable. We believe as everyone is created by a higher force, we must respect and appreciate that.