JJ Valaya talks to Sangeetha Devi Dundoo about his creative voyages and affinity to regions with culture and history
It may seem ironical when a designer says talking about clothes is pointless. JJ Valaya believes fashion is a visual medium. “When you walk in through the door wearing a lovely outfit, people compliment you on the look and the outfit, only later does it merit talking of the fine count yarn, the turquoise colour, the border and so on,” he says.
The last time he was in Hyderabad, he unveiled a collection with Turkish influences. This time, he took a leaf out of his Spanish voyages for the Blender’s Pride Fashion Tour, putting forth a collection curiously titled ‘Maharaja of Madrid’. “That’s the fun of fashion. Each season you can go on a creative voyage and get away with it,” he laughs. He loves to travel and his work takes him to many countries (he participated in the Ukraine Fashion Week recently), particularly those nations rich with craft, culture and royalty. “I cannot draw inspiration from the Wild West or a country like Australia that has little to offer in terms of history. I like regions that have a past and some semblance of royalty,” he says.
These inspirations from his travels are far more than the obvious, literal references. “For this collection, I haven’t drawn inspiration from jackets of matadors or flamenco dancers. Spanish nuances have been tweaked in an Indian context,” he explains. Sometimes, there are months of research involved. Not one to be swayed by passing trends, he says, “I thought bell bottoms were pathetic though they were a big trend. So when I notice a trend, I infuse only a few elements from it into a timeless collection. My clothes can be defined as edgy classicism.”
Valaya recalls with evident pride, “Recently I had a Valaya bride of 21 years ago bringing her trousseau and asking me to alter it so that her 19-year-old daughter could wear it. Apart from alteration, the outfit was mint fresh.”
Personally, Valaya is happy with the strides his fashion empire has made in the last two decades, diversifying into home and fashion like many international luxury labels. He designs for members of Middle Eastern royalty and all appointments are made in palaces. “My hands are full,” he smiles.
At a larger level, he is happy with the evolution in Indian fashion. “There is creative acceptability for Indian fashion globally. We are no longer selling garments for $2 or $3. We are at a position where we can sell an outfit for Rs. 50 lakh. And look at how our weavers and karigars have benefited in the last two decades with designers stepping in. When we began designing, we heard about weavers wanting to commit suicide and the next generation not wanting to enter the trade because there was no money in it. Slowly all that changed,” he signs off.