Couture is unique, has its own space and thus the sheer number of work hours invested in it will always make it unaffordable. But what you can do is, make the design ethos more accessible, and that is what JJ Valaya’s new concept ‘JJV Kapurthala’ bridge-to-luxury line is all about.
Valaya showcased it at the FDCI India Couture Week 2023 sponsored by Hyundai India at the J W Marriott Hotel.
India’s legendary couturier, known for his understanding of royalty, exquisite embroideries and intricate chevrons, took a voluntary sabbatical a few years ago after almost three decades in the business for perhaps a journey within.
That long trek helped him, probably see things without the rose-tinted glasses.
“JJV Kapurthala is our bridge-to-luxury offering which is largely print-based, we are known for our embroideries, we add a touch of a special craft to detail out a complete look. The response to the latest offering has been tremendous,” says Valaya.
“We also do a test line for two seasons before we make a call.”
This year onwards JJV Kapurthala will expand into stand-alone stores, after a successful run online. Maybe in a few years, it should be available in various cities across the country and globally too.
With the French debut label ‘Renaissance’ (hand-crafted only with leftovers) becoming the new favourite in Paris, Valaya believes couture by nature, is the most sustainable statement in the world. You don’t need to make an effort.
“Young girls come in with their mothers’ vintage jodas, JJ Valaya couture pieces. They want them altered to their size—so we tweak it a bit here and there. But, by and large, what I witnessed is pristine quality in terms of the way they have maintained the clothes. And [there is] a certain degree of timelessness as it withstood the test of time and moved down to another generation,” he explains.
Interestingly, Valaya has not always been so sure about career paths. It was only when he was studying chartered accountancy that he discovered he was disinterested.
“I am happy, my life turned out the way it has,” he affirms. In his arduous trek to stardom, there were no “challenges” but “big decisions”.
At that point in time, he admits they seemed destructive, but they were the best moves he made in life.
“I would say two. One [in] my pre-fashion days, when I left chartered accountancy without knowing what to do. And then [with] the magical appearance of NIFT in India, my quick visit from Chandigarh to Delhi. How I fell in love and decided this was my calling. It was one huge decision because the family thought at that time, I had basically forsaken my career. But divinity works in a different way in life,” he says.
The other decision was in 2017 where right after the brand’s 25-year celebration, he decided to take a sabbatical and literally shut down everything – from retail to factory. Only to take a couple of years to realign, redefine and remap exactly what he wants to do.
He still remembers doomsayers claiming that it was the end of an era. In 25 years, his career did become an era of sorts and then, of course, two years he was silent.
“Everyone assumed the JJ chapter was closed. What we were doing was realigning ourselves to a new energy, and rewriting the book. In 2019, we did a beautiful show at the Imperial Hotel in the Capital. We put all thoughts to rest, but here again it was a very tough decision in 2017. I do not think in the history of Indian fashion such a thing would have happened. Grateful to God, a lot of people stood by us and believed in us, helped us continue to live our dream,” he says.
His mantra: You must keep moving, and you can only do this if you remain creatively charged.
“I am so glad I exist in this place. That is why I am happy I get to meet people like Ruth E. Carter, who is the first Black woman to win two Oscars,” he says.
In 2019, she became the first Black person to win the Oscar for costume design for her work on Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’. At the 95th Academy Awards this year, she was once again recognised for the film’s sequel, ‘Wakanda Forever’.
This year, Ruth beat Catherine Martin, who won the BAFTA and Costume Designers Guild awards for her work on Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis’.
Ruth discovered JJ Valaya online, and he thanks the digital era for this contribution. It started as an association with one film which was “Coming to America” and then moved on to another film called “Black Panther” and for which she also got an Oscar.
“Other than one character Angela Bassett, who played Queen Ramonda there was not any scope for a design ethos like ours to come into play. Since she was a queen and we do royalty the best, Ruth found a capable partner in us. Ruth is brilliant, incredibly talented, joyous soul, extremely humble, full of gratitude, and we worked to put the look together. Working with somebody like her is a different high! I have always felt that Hollywood is a little more grounded while working with professionals and creative forces. One difference I have seen is that it could be the biggest movie of the year, like ‘Wakanda Forever’, but one will find a beautiful equation, full of gratitude, no nonsense between the teams, so the end result is incredible,” he confesses.
Ruth deserves all the accolades, he says. The two Oscars she won for films ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’, is the first for any woman of colour.
“I am grateful I got a chance to work with her,” he says.
Despite Europe going into recession, Valaya is unfazed! He says in his long career, he has faced so many recessions, ‘one must accept certain things, such as the trajectory of life’.
“Post-Covid, [when] I came from Europe I saw ultra serpentine queues outside Hermes, Chanel, Vuitton. There is a shift in mind-space post-Covid. One must live with recession. What is the point of hoarding, saving, collecting, when life is unpredictable, let us live in the moment, that is why you will never see luxury brands suffering for long.
“They are the quickest to recover, though first ones to be hit. But Indians everywhere celebrate wedding glamorously, massive traditions, we live it up. We must go with the flow,” he adds.
Hoorvi Valaya, his young fashion stylist daughter is the “now” generation, and obviously she has now taken on the baton.
“What kept me going is that the zest and excitement of going every day to the studio and creating something new and beautiful is unmatched. Seeing that energy shift within and around you, gives you a big high. The ability to visualise and see and imagine how things could be, and having the means to be able to do that is what matters. You must keep yourself excited about what you are doing every day, then everything else will fall into place!” he concludes.