In Conversation With JJ Valaya On JJ Valaya Muse, Couture & Their Bridge To Luxury Label

JJ Valaya

JJ Valaya as a name is synonymous with uncompromised craftsmanship, revival of age-old techniques & collections that go beyond the shallow umbrella of commercialization. A graduate from one of the initial batches of NIFT, a founding member of the Fashion Design Council of India & undoubtedly the czar of Indian couture, Mr. Valaya to this very date, is a creative force to be reckoned with. Even after 30 years in the industry, Mr. Valaya stresses on how integral it is for him, to sketch every outfit from scratch, rather than having one of his assistants whip up something in an instant.

Iterating on the relevance of evolving post every collection, we as an industry are witness to JJ Valaya’s continual yearning to improvise his work. One that is bonded by his signature style yet is singular in its very own making. We caught up with Mr. Valaya & talked about all things design, quality, corporatization & the various arms of JJ Valaya as a brand. Take a look below.

ELLE: What prompted the Idea of launching JJ Valaya Muse?

JJ Valaya: JJ Valaya Muse has been around for a while. It started with a middle eastern princess, but with that, we realized what all we could do with a garment, and to what level of extraordinary perfection and detail we could take. So, once we had the product in place, it required obviously, a space which befitted the experience of the labour. So when we were putting together the world of JJ Valaya, which is our flagship store, we wanted to create a space which teasingly sort of showed people what JJ Valaya Muse was. Which is why if you go to the space, it has got like one window from the main womenswear & menswear lines, & you can get a glimpse of what’s inside, but you can’t really see everything. So, we want to create this sort of mystical space, which was planned like a museum, because these are true masterpieces, and they are totally timeless which can never fade away, due to a fad or a trend.

So obviously, we have to create an environment, which will fit the experience. Also, because this customer is a little more unique & wants something much more special than what is available on the racks outside. They want to go down the bespoke route, they want to spend time with me. So we created a lounge which was attached to the museum, which is only for the Muse customer. So yeah, that’s what the whole space is about.

ELLE: As mentioned, it all started when you designed an heirloom piece for the Middle Eastern Princess. What went into the making of that ensemble, given most of your pieces come under the timeless category?

JJ: That’s true. I mean, I believe that luxury by virtue of its very nature needs to possess a high degree of timelessness. And the art lies in how you create something timeless without making it boring. And that’s always a challenge a designer sort of enjoys. But when it comes to a museum, you’re talking about the highest level of materials. For example, for some of the pieces we use real pearls. We use real semi precious stones, not crystals, and not fake pearls. Also that that kind of totally changes the value proposition. There’s real silver thread used instead of the routine metallic threads that one gets. Also, for example, if one of our pieces has 22 kalis, there are 22 khakas. So imagine doing 22 different traces, one for each kali, and all of them being intricately detailed. In essence, you’ve got 22 lehengas coming into one. These are the kind of special things that go into it, and it takes one and a half months, or two, of people working continuously.

And then we also have a service, for JJ Valaya Muse, besides of course, creating something that is absolutely unique to where we don’t sort of take any shortcuts on the kind of materials we use. The sky’s the limit when it comes to what you can imagine and what we can create. But we also make sure that it’s unique only to the customer. For instance, the labels are not woven labels, the labels are specially embroidered for the customer with their name on them. The traces and the sketches are given to the customer, it’s for them to keep, we will not use these again ever. We’ve taken up to six months, eight months to create a single piece and with a lot of interaction between the customer and us.

ELLE: What is the vetting process like for the karigars who work on the JJ Valaya Muse project?

JJ: Fundamentally, all our karigars have to be the best, or it doesn’t work for us. All our karigars have been trained over the years, and been made to understand that if a piece is on the agenda for like six months, eight months, they get that it is a special one. It’s a labour of love, where creativity comes together with the craft, and then the two are put together with the intention of creating something unique.

ELLE: As for textiles, handicrafts and techniques, are there any new things that you experimented with? Or have they always been your signature ones that have been used now, but in a more intricate way?

JJ: My skill is in detail, so remember, the craft remains the same. It’s like making a good meal, the ingredients pretty much remain the same. But it’s always how you put them together. And what is the right garnish, that makes it that much more special. This applies to everything in life. You have the same things to play around with, but how do you use them differently? And this detail oriented approach of mine doesn’t apply only to clothes, it goes in luxury interiors, too.

ELLE: Each of these pieces take about 6 to 12 months to make. How long before the wedding does a couple need to make an appointment and what does the preparation period look like?

JJ: The process is very simple. I mean, this is the only concept within our store where the customer can sit with me personally and create something. Generally, my interaction with the client is really just walking through the store, and if people want to meet or say hi to take an opinion, I’m gladly willing to offer that opinion. But for Muse, it involves me sitting down with a client, and understanding what she or he is looking at, understanding why are they here? For me, that’s very important to know, why have you come to JJ Valaya Muse? Why do you want this? So it’s not only about money, wealth is possessed by a lot. But if somebody wants to take the game to the next level, there’s got to be a bigger reason.

And more often than not, I have realized that all these people who come for Muse not only believe in luxury but also art. Which is why I always say that JJ Valaya Muse is pure art. It’s almost the creation of something, which is never going to go away. I mean, at least as long as that fabric holds some sort of strength. Even after that, it can be framed beautifully and put in something as just something absolutely magnificent. We see so many old pieces in museums, made like 500 – 700 years back and we marvel at them. The more time passes, the more beautiful they become.

ELLE: The idea behind the museum is to marry art and fashion. How does your museum speak about your journey in the fashion industry right now?

JJ: It’s important to remember that fundamentally a person never changes. So at the core of everything, I’m still exactly the same, but that quest for creative exploration never stopped. I took a sabbatical from 2017 to 2019, where for two years, I just moved away from fashion entirely. That for me was realigning everything to kind of relook at what I want to do and how do I want to do it? After I personally got that alignment into place, we restructured everything. Everything that we’re doing today, I get into every little detail, take it to the best of my ability and push it to another level.

ELLE: Would you ever open it up for students to come see and learn? Would the world of Valaya or the museum inside be like a learning space for the next generation?

JJ: What a beautiful point, thank you for bringing it up because I am seriously considering it now. I think it is so important for today’s kids to be aware of what’s going on, and especially when it’s linked to the past. So, you know, we enjoy a famous sort of tagline, which the Maharani of Kapurthala, once made when she was visiting us several years back, and she said, “You are truly the future of the past.” And I think that was beautifully said. And I kind of take that seriously, because making Indian clothes & lehengas with loads of embroidery is easy. But what we are doing about the quality parameters is important. Today, if you walked around from store to store, my guess is that you’d be quite appalled with the quality levels that we’ve come down to, in a lot of cases.

To read up on our conversation with Iris Van Herpen on her 15 year legacy, tap here.

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