The opening notes of our conversation are about stress, which then meanders into life lessons. Like it always is with JJ Valaya. In between we chat about his Fall-Winter 2022 collection ‘Alma’ that he is showing at FDCI India Couture Week 2022, in association with Lotus Make-up, on July 24, at JW Marriott Hotel New Delhi Aerocity. The master couturier may be celebrating his three-decade-long journey, but the secret to relish life is, he says, living in the moment.
You enjoy this and that’s why there is no stress…
Yeah and I am at peace. If you have the right people handling all the right departments, then it falls into place and at the end of the day, it’s about having a beautiful team.
Do you have a timetable?
I do have some kind of a routine which is always followed. And that is kind of sacrosanct but I am not perfect. I deviate from the routine but you keep learning and get better and if you get better, then all is good. If you get stagnant, then you have something to worry about.
This year is turning out to be exceptionally special…
Yeah. This is one of those beautiful years when everything lovely is happening. This has been a year of initiatives and laying the foundation of all the areas we want to focus on. It’s also 15 years of India Couture Week. So there are a lot of things to celebrate.
By default my shows are generally grand. I also don’t like talking about shows too much. When artists try to give an in-depth analysis of why he has done what he has done, I find it incredibly boring. I am not saying fashion is art, but it is kind of an art and it should be interpreted by whoever is seeing it. I am doing my best and hopefully people will like it.
Tell us how you journeyed back in time…
I was telling my brother also… this is going to be an unusual show. Every piece will have a little nuance from the past, which has been incorporated without it screaming out loud, into the spirit of Alma. Alma means ‘soul’ in Spanish and it is the soul of Valaya which is going to come together in all its grandeur because I don’t understand any other language. Honestly, I am curious as to what is going to happen with the show. For the first time, I don’t have collection one, two, three. It’s an assortment of wonderful pieces with a significant focus on the brides and the grooms.
It is also this season’s collection which is based on the three Spanish influences [‘the costumes of the Matadors (Matador de Toros); the motifs on the Manton shawl (Manton de Manila) and the patterns of the Hand Fan (Pericon’)]. This is the second time I am revisiting Spain. The last collection we did was about seven years back and was called The Maharajas of Madrid, which was mainly on the flamenco dancers.
Were you a little emotional while doing the collection?
Abhi toh bahut saal baki hai! (Laughs) I don’t understand fear. When something has to be done, it has to be done to the best of your ability and yet it is not the end of the world. There is always the next moment. Of course it’s nostalgic…. 30 years. I still don’t believe it. I still think I am at NIFT. But you start realising when people speak to you differently and treat you differently and then you realise that it’s been a while and you are getting older. But I am looking at this moment and what it is going to give rise to in the next moment. The past is over and you have to keep moving forward and doing more interesting things.
I heard this term in a movie called ‘sapiosexual’ and looked it up. It means someone who is extremely enamoured and attracted to anything or anybody intellectual and intelligent. It’s my new word. To me, any person who has a significant amount of intellect and fun mixed together and is also creative… these are the things that attract me.
That’s the same DNA that translates into our clothes too. We are not boring lehngas with lots of embroidery. We get under the skin and I need to feel excited. When my girls wear those clothes, I need to look at them and say ‘wow… that’s an intelligent, beautiful woman’.
We are only emotional. We don’t know any language. The 30-year milestone is very special. We were looking at all our retrospective images and all and then we were looking at our 10-year celebrations, which we did in Bombay and Delhi. It was such an incredible show, a fundraiser for cancer. The entire Bombay film industry came and supported it at that time. From Amitabh Bachchan to Jaya Bachchan to Karan Johar. Going back in time... was so special.
To me what I do is my very life and I don’t wait for a milestone to celebrate it. As I said, I am hoping that it will be another beautiful show and I am hoping most of the people will like it.
Since you revisited your old collections, were you awestruck by what you did?
I was awestruck by another thing. The consistency in what I did. One of my earliest collections, which I showed in 1993, it was called Safa With Splendour. This was Turkey. And then we did Turkey again in Azrak, which was five years back and I did Turkey now. My influences have been so consistent and the language of my interpretations have been so consistent. Yes of course in the middle I have tried to do things which I thought would be path-breaking. They were wrong steps, but you always have to make those mistakes to come out stronger.
Another collection I did was Kazakh Legacy. I am seeing what I am doing today is not very different from what I did then but it’s just that there is a maturity which has come in and our interpretation is more refined, detailed and sapiosexual.
How have you changed as a designer, which has influenced your body of work?
I am still changing and one of the few things that I am learning is that don’t do too much. The maximalists have been forever digging into the past and finding out treasures and then they get greedy and want to explore those treasures all at once and that’s very difficult. It’s like getting 1,000 years of history into 40 garments. That’s one of the key things I am learning... it’s okay to identify and focus on something and dwell on that and take that to the nth level. In my thought process now, less is more, not in my interpretation.
Are you good at admitting your mistakes?
Of course, and I celebrate them. Thank God they happened. Otherwise I’d still be sitting and doing average work and that’s incredibly boring. At least give it your best. Did Anish Kapoor ever think he’ll be making those huge metallic sculptures and be celebrated all over the world? No. The secret lies in thinking like a racehorse, which is, the blinkers are there for a reason. Do not look left or right. What you see is right in front of you and take it one gallop at a time. Now whether you want to make it a gallop or a strut or a canter, that’s your choice.
So, it’s not selfish to put your blinkers on?
No, no. If you expect your life to have an element of peace and want to grow, this is a mandatory requirement. Most of our existence is spent understanding why the other person is doing better than you and what have you done wrong and need to do to fix it. That can only cause you discomfort. Even if you lose the blinkers, you keep going. That’s the beauty of it. The blinkers are only to train you to look forward. Then comes the stage when you don’t need them any more. There is only one fundamental law that you have to follow. When you look at your work, you have to be able to tell yourself that you couldn’t have done it better. At that moment.