‘Couture being luxury is sustainable by nature’

When people buy luxury, they don’t buy it for a season but adore it for eternity. This is the reason why Indian couturier and designer JJ Valaya does not pay too much attention to trends. “Trends are transient. It is here today, gone tomorrow. But when you do luxury, by its very nature, there has to be a degree of timelessness bestowed upon it. We do a very clever sort of mix in designs where we keep the timelessness of our pieces and the magic of change equally alive.

That’s why couture in India is meant for years and years for generations,” says the 54-year-old Jodhpur-born Jagsharanjit Singh Ahluwalia, who came to be known as JJ Valaya after joining NIFT in 1989 and launching his eponymous label in 1992.

Starting raw at a time when the fashion industry was somewhat nonexistent, Valaya is today a force to reckon with and a brand name synonymous with the younger generation. “I don’t want to be stuck in the past and be known as purely a heritage brand but one which connects with today and that’s really what we as a brand are. The Maharani of Kapurthala once visited us and said, ‘you are truly the future of the past’,” he says.

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In the world of the impeccably decadent and opulent collections of Valaya, the values ​​of conscious luxury surround his heirloom pieces. Whether he has been intrigued by global cultures, especially the ones connected with the spice and silk routes, or the embroidered and metallic embellishments in Rumeli, Bursa and Alma, where he takes inferences from ancient civilisations like the Romans, Arabs, Spanish, Turkish and Ottoman, he infuses Indianness with aplomb. The latest collection ‘Alma’ is yet another proof of this creative symbolism.

From the 42 pieces, spread between menswear and womenswear, with a focus on bridal couture, the collection pays great attention to detail with ample choice of crystals, antique patina and gold work, rhinestone-encrusted eyes, embellished face nets and hairline, floral halos and glitter lips that speak loud and clear of trends this wedding season.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

What inspired you to create the new collection?
This season’s collection is called ‘Alma’, which means ‘soul’ in Spanish, and this collection is about the soul of our brand. Every single piece is a different story. While there is an overlaying inspiration of magical country Spain, each and every piece has absorbed nuances and details from the past 30 years, from one collection or the other, and I’ve kind of incorporated it into the final piece. It is not about cohesiveness, but how special this one stands out. Traditional motifs, designs of Spain, floral hair buns, costumes of the matadors in short jackets, the motifs on the manton shawl (Spanish flamenco shawls made of silk or knit fabric known for their square shape) or the patterns of the hand fan called pericon have been dramatically interwoven with Indian craft and embroidery techniques.

What changes have you seen in terms of ‘cultural fashion’ in the last 30 years?
When I got into design school in the late 80s, fashion as an industry did not exist. People were not used to wearing clothes with other people’s names on them, an era where everybody went to buy fabric, went to a tailor to get something stitched , an era which did not have computers or Internet, or publications talking about fashion. We had no fashion weeks, not even a fashion institute. The National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) was set up in 1986 in Delhi and that was the beginning of fashion education in India. Now the change has been nothing short of phenomenal. I have had the good fortune of being a part of these movements from the very beginning. In 1998, we were a handful of designers to think of a ‘fashion body ‘ and put Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) together.

We have seen your illustrious work in fashion, photography, jewellery and now homes—what led to this transition? What excites you the most?
What you call transition, I call evolution. If you feel you can contribute to another discipline within the creative realm, nothing should stop you. We have some ultimate luxury museum pieces in India, some of them take six to eight months to make. We are working on the JJ Valaya line of precious jewellery to be launched soon. At Valaya Home, we create furniture, interior projects and coveted wall tapestries, a large collection can be seen at The Leela Palace Delhi, Chanakyapuri, Delhi. Apart from this, we have wonderful licensing collaboration in place, the JJ Valaya and Obeetee line of carpets is launching in September and we are working on the second line of home furnishing with tapestry, and a wonderful and successful running line of tiles with FCML.

Your work is best represented as elegant maximalism.
India is a maximalist country with complex festivals, food and flavours. Even the original Indian architecture used rocks to create beautiful temples, full of carvings. At the same time we want to be modern and look cool, so there is a lot of influence from the West, which is good as long as you don’t give up on your country, and infuse elements from the West which helps you redefine the cultural aspect of where you come from. This is something I believe in. We practise elegant maximalism: sophisticated, timeless and stand the test of time.

How much has your fashion and ideology in design changed post pandemic?
My ideology in design has not changed because of the pandemic but the pandemic was a great teacher that taught us to live in the moment. There has been a massive kind of josh in people with more traveling, luxury booming like never before, people spending more now. This change is positive for both people and businesses as it has changed the very mindset of people and there is a turn-around effect on businesses, especially luxury businesses.

How much importance do you give to price points and brand collaborations in your label?
We have various kinds of subsections, from luxury to bridal couture line, bridge-to-luxury line. The price points change across all three because we have identified our markets and know what is going to resonate with them. Brand collaborations on the other hand are very important, but only with brands that matter-bond with the finest to be the finest.

Have you created any sustainable fashion pieces?
Couture being luxury is sustainable by nature. We take months to create something which lasts years. We do not like fast fashion. People don’t buy us today and throw them away a month and a year later. JJV is our accessible bridge-to -luxury line based on occasion wear. Nearly 80% of the collection is made using sustainable, eco-friendly fabrics with Tencel Luxe, and developed fabrics which are high on luxury and tenacity but at the same time are eco-friendly.

What is your idea of ​​fashion technology and how much of it is integrated in the label?
I am quite a geek actually. Technology can be a boon or a bane. When you create a website or social media pages, you suddenly have a shop in every corner of the world. With e-commerce, you are available to all and we have seen traction. There is significant change in the digital interaction that we are having with our customers. But the flip side is when we enter an era of too many choices.

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