A designer with an artist’s soul

- November 19, 2023
| By : Mohd Shehwaaz Khan |

Payal Jain says that her designs have a western body and an Indian soul and that when she creates couture, it's about perceiving and understanding the person who adorn it

THINKING DESIGNER: Payal says that while designing, she tries to get into her clients’ heart

Payal Jain, one of the most respected names in the fashion industry, is a designer who has created a strong identity and an unmistakable style of her own. This month, Payal completes three decades in fashion. 

To celebrate this milestone, Payal put together an evocative display of artistic installations inspired from her designs over the years. The exhibition titled ‘Soul of A Woman’ brought together art and fashion.

In a conversation with Patriot, Payal talks about how fashion and art are manifestations of the creative aesthetics of the human mind that finds a unique expression in every individual.   

How does art convert into fashion?

I have always believed that fashion and art are deeply entwined. In my work over the past three decades, fashion has merged seamlessly into art; textiles have become my canvas; and colours, threads, weaves and embroideries my medium of expression. Ever since I started my journey, I have approached my fashion collections from the perspective of art. I have been constantly inspired by artists, their life and work, poetry, music, dance and dance forms. I weave my inspiration into the warp and weft of textiles that will tell the story.

Would you call yourself a fashion designer or an artist?

I see myself as an artist, who has the ability to bring out the uniqueness of each distinctive personality through his or her personal sartorial language. I can only look back at the 30 years and see how much of my work has been influenced and inspired by art and artists from renaissance art to cubism, neoclassical to contemporary art, besides dance forms as well as world history and architecture.

EARLY SIGHTING: Fashion designer Payal Jain was exposed to the world of arts right since childhood due to her parents’ interest and involvement in the field

As a fashion designer, when I create couture, it’s about perceiving and understanding the person who will adorn it. I try to get into their heart, mind and soul, and understand who they really are, and what is special and unique about them. To be a designer is to be able to create something unique, special and personal, which would speak the language of their soul and express uniqueness. The past 30 years of knowing, watching, understanding and appreciating each of the special people I have had the privilege of dressing brings me a deep sense of joy and fulfilment. This creative expression through the lens of fashion, and more importantly through the rhythm and beat of my soul is what drove me to express this real connection that we have through the medium of art. I have always believed that fashion and art are deeply entwined and I think of myself as an artist, not simply someone who makes clothing, but someone who brings out the uniqueness of an individual through their own personal language of fashion, textile and art. 

Fashion, I have always believed, is a way of life, starting from what you wear to how you live, where you travel, the food you eat, the films you watch, the books you read and the stories you tell! It is a complete synthesis of all that we are and what makes us have our special, unique language of expression, which can never be replicated by another. I don’t believe that as a designer, it is my right to tell you how to dress. But as an artist, it is my responsibility to see the light of your soul, to give it form, colour and shape through your own personal language of dressing and being. 

Which artists have influenced you or have been an inspiration for you?

My journey into the world began with art! I was blessed to be born to two amazing parents whose very being sang of the arts. My mother is a passionate and committed musician who spent 16-18 hours every day for 40 years in her magical world of ‘Sitar Sadhna’. My father designed sustainable buildings, wrote poetry, played the flute and told me magical poems and stories of Rabindranath Tagore. I was named ‘Payal’ because of their love for dance. I grew up amid early morning notes of alaap, wandering amid architectural marvels in the by-lanes of Delhi, hanging around Mandi House and Triveni Kala Sangam seeing endless art and sculpture exhibitions, attending poetry baithaks, enjoying classical dance performances, and staying up through all-night musical concerts by the greatest maestros the world has ever seen! My childhood was seeped in music, art and dance….I began sketching at the age of eight and can’t remember loving anything more ever since!

I spent hours and years learning Odissi dance and Hindustani classical music, dabbled a little in tabla. 

Fashion was born of my love for art at a time when very few people even knew what a designer was meant to do. My passion for sketching drew me from architecture to fashion and my love for sustainability, the legacy of my father, paved the path towards creating and working with natural, sustainable textiles, researching history and reviving our rich heritage and craft traditions.

My rich legacy and exposure to fine arts has influenced much of my work. My collections — Frida Kahlo to Gustav Klimt; Kathak dance to Rumi’s poetry; monastries and dharamsala to Laos have also influenced my work. One form of art merges into another for me, be it fashion, textile, home or lifestyle. They continue to be strung through a common thread of love. 

 What is this particular collection of installations about?

‘Soul of a woman’ looks back at my journey of three decades in the world of fashion. To me, fashion has always been a form of art, and textile my first love. But for this milestone, I felt a strong desire to express myself in mediums outside of my comfort zone. The joy of experimenting with wood, metal, paper, bamboo and shola wood, and amalgamating these with daily fashion components like bobbins, buttons, beads, thimbles and yarn culminated in 30 off-beat sculptural forms, beyond stereotypical boundaries. 

Each of these installations connects with a past collection, and recounts the story that inspired it. In the three decades, I would have shown more than a 100 collections, but these 30 have been special to me from the perspective of art, hence I wanted to interpret them in a whole new way, marrying the fashion statement with the artistic inspiration that inspired them in the first place. 

Tell us how you started out on your fashion journey?

When I began my label, fashion was still in a nascent stage in India and here I was, wanting to dress women in western clothes, which I soon discovered had no market. Even the most stylish women heading corporates, driving hospitality and even those in society preferred sarees and traditional Indian way of dressing for work, as well as for socialising. Here I was armed with a degree in fashion, wanting to create haute couture, but in a landscape where no one really had the need for a designer’s expertise or skill!

It was a slow and tedious start, going from one day to the other with faith, believing that people would eventually begin to see how I could create something unique and special for them, that could not be bought off the shelf. The whole premise of couture was new to this landscape, and it took years to find a handful of clients who had faith, and later became loyalists and continue to be friends even today. Today, being in the fashion business is considered prestigious and cool, back then we were just poor struggling darzis (tailors) with big dreams and small pockets! 

When I started my journey, the only goal was to create a niche for myself, a space which would give my creative endeavours a purpose and platform. As the years rolled by, it became clear that this was my true calling, and as I began to understand myself better, clearer became my handwriting as a designer. The one thing that became abundantly clear to me was that I would live by my heart, and all clients, projects or shows I took on, were led by the voice of my soul. I always knew I would not be led astray if I followed that sincerely. Looking back, I could have taken on more commercial and lucrative assignments, but I didn’t do so if I didn’t relate to them. 

How would you describe your design sensibility?

My fashion label is an extension of my personality, as is the case for any artist/designer. I work with Indian textiles and crafts and have always been passionate about creating fabrics from scratch. My deepest joy lies in being able to see what I have envisioned come alive on a weavers’ loom or embroiders’ adda. It takes a lot of time, patience, love and passion to wait and watch each collection slowly take shape…the process can take anywhere from one month to 24 months and every step of the way is magical and full of gratification. The pleasure of creating it from a simple thought is absolutely unparalleled.

My love for India and its glorious past, rich culture, vast textile heritage, incredible costumes, musical legacy, art and architecture have all come together to inspire my work in fashion. My team and I take painstaking care of each phase of design realisation. I am deeply involved in all the textile development that goes into each collection; from approving every fibre to the actual processing of the weave itself, spending anywhere between 12-18 months developing each line. I feel that each garment is an heirloom, to be passed down generations with pride. My creations speak a global language yet possess a strong Indian soul. I try to marry the East and West in my designs. I believe my designs have a western body and an Indian soul.

Most fashion designers in India concentrate heavily on the bridal market…how come you don’t?

We certainly design a lot of bridal couture, but it’s in our own design aesthetic. Recently, we have been working with families to create a couture repertoire for three generations of the family. I am grateful for the faith of my loyal clients and friends. 

What can we look forward to from you next?

Wait to be surprised!