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Crusader for craft

ZEENAB ANEEZ
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Personality ‘Indian craft must be recreated in ways which are trendy and relevant,’ says couturier J.J. Valaya

Regality, royalty, historyJ.J. ValayaPHOTO: NAGARA GOPAL
Regality, royalty, historyJ.J. ValayaPHOTO: NAGARA GOPAL

Two decades and going strong, J.J. Valaya is grateful that he was present at the start of the Indian fashion industry. “It was just a handful of us. There were no benchmarks to adhere to. People would look at us and say, ‘What? You have your name on your clothes?’ There was just one fashion retail store in India, no magazine devoted to fashion, no reporters to take our interviews and no Internet; and most importantly no customers!” J.J. Valaya recalls when asked about his experience in the fashion world. Need he say anymore?

The designer’s latest collection, Azrak, is influenced by the Ottoman Empire. So where does Turkish inspiration meet Indian sensibilities? Azrak, which the designer describes as “celebratory, modern and nostalgic” takes the best of what the Ottoman culture has to offer and tweaks it with Indian sensibilities and there lies the excitement. Here you will see silhouettes with Indian embroidery and Mother of pearl inlay and the dramatic weaves of the sultans robes reinvented for jackets and tunics.

Research is of utmost importance to the couturier who often looks to the past for inspiration; he spent over ten days in Istanbul before he started working on the collection.

To J.J. Valaya, fashion is all about reinvention. “How do you take something from the past and reinvent it in ways that is relevant to the present?” he asks. “You can’t completely reinvent clothes because they still have to be wearable but we have an edge here in India,” he continues, pointing to the rich embroidery that ran down the length of a black silhouette that lies close by. “But typically we don’t realize its value. We think Indian embroidery is only meant for weddings and festivals and fail to give it a place in contemporary fashion.”

J.J. Valaya considers himself a ‘custodian of craft’. “How do we revive what we had, what we still have to an extent but will soon lose?” is the question he poses to designers, retailers and fashion editors across the country.

“Designers run away from Indian crafts because they are not considered new and trendy. I blame the fashion editors for this; the glossies want pictures of ‘interesting’ looking clothes. They feature Indian crafts only for wedding specials. The young designer who comes along hence makes these crazy, dramatic clothes to make it to these magazines but poor fellow will not sell any clothes!”

When he is not working on his fashion branch, J.J. Valaya is behind the camera. “Photography is the fearless side of me,” he says. “It is a great leveller for me. My fashion line is more craft that art and expression. There is a method to the madness. This (photography) on the other hand, is sheer madness.”

ZEENAB ANEEZ

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