"Bahut ho gaya (Enough is enough). I want more people to wear my clothes,” says J.J. Valaya, who is expanding his bridge-to-luxury line, JJV. Kapurthala.
After 30 years of creating couture in the shape of lehngas and sherwanis, Valaya launched JJV.Kapurthala last year in Delhi to make his creations more accessible. By replacing heavy zardozi and intricate chikankari with printed motifs, the couturier began offering occasion-wear in the ₹10,000-75,000 range.
Now, he will be launching his second collection under the JJV. Kapurthala line, in collaboration with carmaker Maruti Suzuki’s automobile channel Nexa, at the Lakme Fashion Week x FDCI (Fashion Design Council of India) in Mumbai next month. Lounge got a preview of part of the collection, displayed at his flagship store in Delhi’s JW Marriott Aerocity hotel. “Nexa's tagline is to create and inspire, and the energy and core values of Lakme Fashion Week x FDCI show and Nexa gel seamlessly," says Shashank Srivastava, the senior executive at the car company. Fashion has to have that creative sense and inspire others. This collaboration with Valaya is extremely special because he has this great ability to bring the past alive in a contemporary style. He can create the future of the past.”
The Valaya creations, all 42 of them, are much more relaxed, fluid and light, than his heavy couture pieces, which start at ₹1 lakh. The garments are modern yet traditional, with a focus on the play of nature-inspired motifs for which JJ Valaya is known. “The idea is to serve the modern millennial,” says Valaya, who recently collaborated with Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth Carter for the Marvel film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Edited excerpts from the interview, where Valaya talks about the new line and his expansion plans:
You are returning to the Mumbai runway after over a decade…
Yes. This is going to be the second collection of the line. It’s exciting. I have been known for couture for more than three decades and I was dying to do a bridge-to-luxury line…otherwise it was only brides and grooms. There was a lot of angst to do affordable luxury. Frankly, I just want to see more people in my clothes.
The line has more prints. Was that always part of the plan?
It’s not swamped with embroidery. We don’t have collection names for this line, only seasons, because the perennial inspiration is Kapurthala.
I wanted to create a line that was easy, practical and light enough that people could travel with them. The inspiration comes from Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala, the place my forefathers come from. He was a Francophile and loved travelling. And his travelogues are my go-to for design inspiration.
Since we have collaborated with Nexa for this line, black, ivory and white are the primary colours of the collection, with hints of some reds. The best part is that black and ivory have been central to my brand since the beginning.
How was the JJV line received?
We have had 96% conversion. Normally they say 60% is great but we have been lucky. We have more non-bridal clients for this line and 40% of the revenue is from the men’s side. And we are also looking at introducing accessories. Hopefully, the March show will have JJV totes.
Within the global fashion industry, more brands seem to be looking at making couture a little casual. Is this a strategy to find more customers?
In India, couture will always mean shaadi ke kapde (wedding clothes). In the West, couture is, of course, very different and has a limited, niche audience. And that continues to exist. Brands like Gucci are more luxury, not couture.
Now, coming back to your question, you are right. There’s a major move happening where more luxury brands (from Louis Vuitton to Hermès) are creating lines that are more casual. The other reality is that no major brand makes money from clothes. They make a lot from accessories. Sure, their clothes sell but their bags sell much more.
For any luxury house, accessories are always the champions because you can carry a bag anywhere every day. The other shift that’s happening is the focus on athleisure—but the luxury version of it. I am also working towards adding a cool twist to the line.
You mean adding streetwear?
I like to call it sports chic. Basically, taking a sporty approach to our designs. Maybe I will introduce it a couple of years down the line.... One step at a time. I brought the bridge-to-luxury line after 30 years. The two-year break (Valaya took a sabbatical from work in 2017) really helped me study the consumer and market changes more deeply.
What did your research tell you?
People still want the work on their garments for their weddings. I don’t think that attitude will change, maybe people are going for more subtle colours but they still want that grandness. The new energy, though, is palpable, with more designers coming out with diffusion lines. There’s Rahul Mishra, Tarun Tahiliani, Anamika Khanna. Shantanu and Nikhil came out with the Cricket Club line…it’s very interesting, something very unique.
It’s also happening because there is more structure now, with corporate backing.
What’s your take on the entry of companies into the Indian fashion world?
Well, I am not corporate-backed but I would say this entry has been a blessing. I mean covid-19 was bad for everyone but it turned out to be a wonderful period for our industry because many got bought over…at least 60-70% of them. There’s still about 30% of us holding on.
Are you open to it?
Eventually, why not? I think this is the perfect marriage. I am trying to expand on my own for now, with more focus on store launches and accessories.
Why did it take you so long to turn your attention towards accessories?
Frankly, I don’t have the answer. When you are making lehnga and sherwani, you don’t think of the bag. But I can tell you now that about 50% of my store would be accessories.
It’s the extension of any brand. People are carrying your bags around every day, that’s free showcase for the brand.