Desi couture needs to balance real-time and virtual: JJ Valaya on the new normal

JJ Valaya opens up about the way forward for desi couture
JJ Valaya opens up about the way forward for desi couture
JJ Valaya opens up about the way forward for desi couture

JJ Valaya was one of the first people on desi high fashion spectrum - a true proponent, he has seen desi couture being birthed and when the couture experience is at its most vulnerable, the industry of course, looks to pioneers like Valaya to help us understand the facelift that’s needed. The designer just held his first digital fashion show showcasing his BURSA collection for the bridal and festive season of 2020, which is a line-up that features influences from 14th-17th century Turkey and design elements from the Ottoman reign. For the latest edition of Indulge Time Pass, Valaya joins journalist and author Kaveree Bamzai and editor Edison Thomas to talk about the way forward for desi couture. 

Valaya's Bursa collection
Valaya's Bursa collection

On beginnings

I started out in 1989 from NIFT, I spent 31 years in the business. Back then we only had a handful of designers trying to make a mark. Rohit Khosla was taking the first steps, we had no Internet, no writing about fashion. We were a new breed who told people, ‘you know what, you need to wear clothes with our names on it!’ The journey has been so brilliant, having no benchmarks to follow, all the mistakes we made, it made our evolutions so interesting. 

On Indian couture

I started with couture. I'm still in couture, in the Indian context it means big beautiful Indian weddings, anyone who says otherwise is being too posh. I remember telling a major French couturier that we are the only country who can produce and consume couture with equal zest. The Parisians produce couture but there are only maybe 200 women who are buying it there, but in India the weddings keep the spirit of the country alive.

On leaner Indian weddings

We tend to forget that all moments pass, all things good and bad are transient. There is a shift in what the brides and grooms are wearing today because they cannot have more than 100 guests, it's more personal but the spirit is unmoved, they still want to look the part. Most weddings live in memories, so people can go back to them. I think we come out of this a more appreciative planet

On sustainability

I have brides from 28 years back who are coming back to me with their daughters who want to wear their mother's clothes in their sizes. There's no bigger high than seeing a completely new generation resonating with what we did a quarter of a century back, when that happens I can't think of a better way to promote sustainability, because it has endured it is an heirloom. We have always been practising this, honestly. Opulence is a word which is often used with negative connotation, but what would India be without the Maharajas? We forget what we used to have, the glory and the beauty of the crafts, the world has a lot to owe to that generation of Indians who were truly indulging.

On the virtual buyer's experience

We are working to make the online experience was enriching and realistic as the off-line one, On you can connect on video with our team who will take you through every detail of a garment, so we can try to make you feel like you are in a real store, but nothing can replace the real experience, of walking into a space and buying your couture which is also an investment. It’s glamorous, you get pampered, you are trying to read how others are reacting to you, you can’t have it on a screen. But on the flip side can I have the whole world coming to my 2-3 stores? No. With the online space I have a much larger audience. But we can’t say that luxury fashion and couture can only survive in a virtual space.

On the virtual fashion show

It was quite crazy, we are so used to gearing up for the 25 minutes of adrenaline rush after 8-10 months of hard work, this was different. We had to do takes and retakes and edit the film, but it was amazing. I didn't have 500 people out of which 480 would go back unhappy because they didn’t have good seats! We had two lakh people watching the show on a single run, in a month we can touch a million viewers. That’s incredible, we have messages coming in from all over the world. I think the way forward is going to be a balance between real-time and virtual, since we can’t ignore either, they have to learn to live in blissful harmony

On photography 

I believe if you’re going to live a life you’d better live an inspired life. I consider Henry Cartier-Bresson to be the godfather of candid photography, he said it's all about moments and you have to be ready. Everything will fall into place, thanks to mobiles we are practising it all the time now. I have a travel memoir which I call my little book of memories. I feel digital imagery will get lost in its hard drives, to translate them into paper is very important. Buy I’m not a purist because if you’re not moving with the times you’re going to get left behind

The new desi

I think in all aspects the country is on a roll, I have two daughters, one’s a millennial and the other is 12 and they keep me young. This generation has too many choices, we had to struggle for everything. When I was starting out, and I was preparing for the entrance exam for NIFT I put together a trunk of goodies. My most priceless possession in it was a label of Giorgio Armani, just the label.

I don't remember how I had got it, but the fact that I had the label of the world’s biggest designer, was to me complete nirvana. Now, it’s all too easy, to top it all you have the internet, you don’t have to chase anything. But it’s a much better informed generation, they are more confident, only at times I feel they are lonely because technology has taken away the human touch. 

Looking Back

Back then we had supermodels, I could recognize them. I knew their names, that was a big thing, even in the west. Be it Linda Evangelista or Christy Turlington, it was a different spirit. We weren’t that commercial back then, we used to have joint shows that is not a thing now. Back then it was a different world, but I don’t want to go down the ‘those days’ lane, my day is now, I’m excited about it. Evolution happens, you have to warm up to it, not everything can be revolutionary, some of it is evolutionary.

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