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FDCI India Couture Week

JJ Valaya speaks about his couturier career and shares some of his life lessons

The lure of watching rehearsals is too tempting to resist and as the models did their final lap, we spotted JJ Valaya overseeing the stage setup

Saionee Chakraborty | Published 01.08.23, 07:45 AM
JJ Valaya at Hyundai India Couture Week in association with Reliance Brands, an FDCI initiative

JJ Valaya at Hyundai India Couture Week in association with Reliance Brands, an FDCI initiative

Picture: Sandip Das

We had reached JW Marriott Hotel New Delhi Aerocity, on Friday, way before the show was set to begin. The lure of watching rehearsals is too tempting to resist and as the models did their final lap, we spotted JJ Valaya overseeing the stage setup. From a knot at the backdrop to the placement of the rugs. Details. We caught up with the celebrated couturier on what to expect and of course some life lessons.

It is fascinating to watch you before a show, taking into account every small detail...


I have OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). I just have to make sure that everything is exactly the way I want it. This is not done yet. I have left a basic framework and then I will come back and measure each thing. Is the centre alignment right? Even an inch matters. Sometimes I think, I shouldn’t be doing so much, but I can’t, I feel restless. Clearly, delegation is not my strength and I have worked on it all my life and continue to work, it will happen when it has to.

What is your state of mind right now?

Right now, I am pretty calm. I am generally quite okay before my shows. I don’t stress out, but it’s always nice to see how people will react to the collection because, in the end, it’s about the clothes. That’s what we work so hard for, for maybe eight months, to create a range that is special.

At what point do you let go?

We have fantastic teams. That is a great help of course, but when do I let go? When the first model walks out! This is it! We don’t have any takes, or retakes. Twenty-25 minutes mein jo hoga... that is it. The moment it gets over, you are ready to start working on the next one, six months later.

Is there a pre-show ritual?

You know about my meditation. That’s a constant. I don’t really get into anything specific. This is one of those rare occurrences in which my spiritual master is in town. So, it was very good that I met him today before coming here.

It’s the passion that keeps you going...

It’s from whether you enjoy what you do or not and I LOVE what I do. Like, I am already thinking about what I am going to do in my 50 years of JJ Valaya. It’s crystal clear in my head. That means it’s another 17 years to go. That means technology and the future would have invaded us in a big way.

It’s very exciting for me because here we are, champions of tradition and keeping culture alive, yet kind of making sure that we appeal to the current generation and yet I am thinking how am I going to modernise this label through its projection and material? How I am going to keep tradition and craft alive five-10 years from now. Just that thought that what will happen when tradition meets technology. It’s such a contradiction and I revel in contradiction. That’s my big high, that how do I make two seemingly opposite things come together so beautifully and seamlessly.

‘Baroda’ is looking amazing...

I am a cultural nomad. This time I thought let’s not venture out of the country. I did my bit of research and I realised Gujarat, amazingly, has quite a diverse past. It was ruled by the Mughals and Marathas and parts of it were also ruled by the Portuguese. I found that fascinating. And, how much of that would have been left behind? Whenever somebody goes, a part of their culture seeps into the very soil of the land and then manifests itself in so many things. I anyway have a fixation for some Gujarat staples. For example, the craft of lippan. We have used it in the backdrop also, but instead of traditional lippan motifs, we have used art deco lines and played with mirrors. We have reinterpreted mashru fabric as a print and then worked on it.

There are bits and pieces of several elements. I hate doing historical-referenced collections. As designers who like research, our role is to visually exploit what is being lost and then present itself in a language which people today understand.

The music you will freak out. There is beautiful juxtaposition and that’s fascinating. There’s qawals, western classical, and percussion.

It’s a wholesome approach...

I don’t see life in any other way. When they were rehearsing they created a baithak where everybody came together. That was the first cut and I had tears rolling down my eyes. It hits the soul. It’s challenging. Every good fashion house has its signature, yet we are expected to do something fresh, every six months. It’s not an easy profession.

What more can you tell us about the styling?

I have always believed that an artist should never talk about his or her work. It needs to be seen and post that, you either hate or love it. The whole medium is about self-interpretation. Some people will love and some will not. It’s okay and I am not out to please the whole world anyway. And, I can’t. I am not God.

Can couture be a part of our everyday life?

No, for the simple reason that the only time Indians really celebrate is weddings. You would look like an idiot if you wore a beautiful blue embroidered lehnga to a dinner, or a sherwani. It just doesn’t cut it, but weddings are when every Hindusthani says, rewind back in time and let’s relive that moment. India is the only country where couture is created and consumed with equal fervour....

What has changed in how today’s bride is dressing?

The phone has changed everything. We are all travellers and we are all seeing the world now. The millennials and Gen Z’s are a different trip. They are a mysterious generation who are perhaps among the loneliest in the world because their only friend exists in their phones, but, at the same time, are highly motivated and they go around and accomplish things we won’t even dream of. It’s best to observe, be a spectator, see and feel the changes, and try and get it into whatever you create. It’s not easy to please everybody and I have maintained that I don’t want to either, but within your realm, what can you do, that’s a little more spicy and interesting and a little more awe-inspiring.

You are young at heart, but does your daughter Hoorvi give you a window into what Gen Z is thinking...

She’ll hold all the secrets to herself and never let me in on anything. I suppose she takes after her father! (Laughs) We live in our own little planets. We are deeply appreciative of each other’s work. She has absorbed all my DNA’s and sensibilities. And, she has taken it to another level. I always tell her that I am excited to see what will happen when she’ll come into the brand. Then I’ll be the spectator.

You also work with a much younger team...

It’s very important to work with younger people... they know they can be brutally honest with me. That’s what I want. It’s always good to absorb. This is the mantra of life. Sponge baan jao...

Good, bad...

Everything. Then go to your place of solitude, squeeze the sponge, get rid of the excess water and hold on to enough that is relevant...

What is this romance of life that you have...

When I was a fauji kid... studying in Chandigarh, then got into chartered accountancy and used to go to villages and banks to audit them. Cut to now... my god! I am living my dreams. There is not a single day when I feel like I am working and that is the magic of life... iss se zyada ke chahiye!

Last updated on 01.08.23, 07:45 AM

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