JJ Valaya: ‘Sustainability is no longer a trend, it has become a moral responsibility’

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‘Celebrating luxury since 1992’, reads the bio on ace fashion designer JJ Valaya’s official Instagram page. Rightly so, as over the 30 years of its journey, his eponymous label has redefined luxury by giving it a timeless makeover — the essence of which also lies at the core of its design philosophy. Taking a ‘natural’ step ahead in his journey, the designer recently added another feather in his cap by unveiling a line of precious jewellery that is “inspired by the elements nestled within nature, and from exquisite masterpieces of the past of Royal India.”

Ahead of the label’s 30th-anniversary celebrations on July 24, we caught up with the celebrated couturier who opened up about his jewellery line, his creations, the relationship between couture and jewellery, the effect of the pandemic on the fashion industry, and why fashion needs to be present in both digital and physical mediums. Edited excerpts below:

From fashion to jewellery — what led to this transition?

Fashion to jewellery is not a transition, it’s actually an evolution. If you look at the top fashion luxury brands of the world you will notice that their ethos, design, and signature spill across various mediums. Similarly, as a three-decade-old fashion house, we are creating lines of high fashion garments, and now precious jewellery. We have also just introduced a bridge to a luxury line, a line of furniture and luxury interiors, and also have a wonderful line of menswear and accessories – belts, cufflinks, pocket squares and scarves. So, a lot of things are happening, and this is all a process of natural evolution. If you have got something which resonates with a certain audience then it will be naïve to not make them experience the whole universe that is possible with your language.

Your designs are synonymous with luxury and timelessness; how did you manage to translate the same ethos in your line of precious jewellery

Well, you said it yourself — luxury and timelessness. I always believe luxury should be timeless because it endures the test of time. It is passed down a generation and that, to me, is a true hallmark of luxury. And, to translate the ethos of what I do in my couture to the jewellery line is very simple because the brand DNA remains unchanged. So it’s all about balance. Also, our fine jewellery pieces are not only for brides but for anybody who wants to wear something special and look apart. I believe that mediums like precious jewellery are extremely versatile and you don’t have to always wear them with embroidered clothes; they can also be worn with simple garments. Simplicity and maximalism both work equally well for precious jewellery.

There has always been a symbiotic relationship between couture and jewellery — does your line intend to strengthen this bond?

Yes, couture and jewellery go hand in hand. As such, my idea is to create a line that is distinct yet signature Valaya that people would want to possess and is one that endures and is timeless. These are the core underlying principles of the line we are designing, and yes, they will always resonate with the season. So, we are currently working on Fall-Winter 22 in both fashion and jewellery.

Do you believe that accessories can make or break one’s look? If yes, can you share some basic dos and don’ts when it comes to styling/wearing jewellry?

Yes, accessories are perhaps one of the most important things besides clothes in fashion. Your entire look is a reflection of who you are, your own personality, and what you want to convey to the world. Clothes help form the first impression you give to the world, so one must be very careful and comfortable in what you choose for yourself. While there are no basic dos and don’ts but there is one core fact that I implore everybody to follow — which is to create a balance and not over do it.

In the post-pandemic scenario, however, minimalism seems to be the buzzword. Are your creations in sync with the same?

I don’t really agree that minimalism is the buzzword post-pandemic; it was and will always be around. We must remember that, in life, designs will evolve and there will always be an audience for each. It’s more about constant fine-tuning of the basic principles — so whether it’s minimalism or maxilimism, one will always find an evolutionary journey going on. So, I am not of the opinion that the post-pandemic scenario has given birth to a completely different fashion DNA. Also, when it comes to couture, especially Indian couture which is focused more towards weddings, the spirit remains intact because people now want to celebrate even more. So there is room for everybody and everything.

In a similar vein, has your approach to (fashion) design changed as well (after the pandemic)?

My approach to design hasn’t changed at all after the pandemic because a brand has core ethos that always champion. It is the reason people come to us, prefer us over others; so it will be naïve to suddenly drift and do something for the sake of being different. So, while we are doing a lot of new and different things, it is all extracted out of our core signature that has appealed to people over the past three decades.

The biggest lesson, you feel, the fashion industry has learnt in the last two years.

The biggest lesson the industry, perhaps mankind, has learned is that we have to stop running the rat race and start enjoying what we do. We need to be more appreciative of the world we live in. Also, the fashion industry needs to strive for perfection, focus on what you do best and excel in it — everything else will fall into place.

Virtual fashion shows have also become quite popular of late. Your views on the same?

Whether you like it or not, the virtual world is part of our existence now. But we need to be smart to not let it take over us entirely and instead strike a perfect balance between the real world and the digital world and come out with wonderful experiences. One cannot do without the other. You cannot have only a digital presence and not have anything physical. So, it it has to be a world of co- existence and I am personally looking forward to it.

Your take on sustainability in fashion, something that has been a hot topic of discussion.

Today, sustainability is no longer a trend, it has become a moral responsibility. As a brand, JJ valaya has always been sustainable because couture and luxury, by their very nature, are sustainable. I have had brides from 25-26 years coming back with their wedding clothes and their daughters now want their mothers’ clothes altered to their size.

So, sustainability is going to be a key focus but not so much because one may want to look ‘cool’ but because individuals owe it to the planet to create something which can be friendly.

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