Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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In Fashion…Valaya and his works

This week let me take up an important designer. JJ Valaya works out of New Delhi, and is credited with designs that are nothing short of regal. Not quite surprising though, for he was born amidst princes and palaces. The city was Jodhpur, which has lately been in the thick of news with film celebrities like Elizabeth Hurley, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan trying to get married there.

Valaya with his creations
Valaya, who grew up in Jodhpur, found his inspiration in the bygone era of royal India, where leisure led to luxurious yearnings. One of them was the cultivated taste in costumes. We know the elaborate time that kings and queens took to decorate themselves, adorning with ornaments and embellishing with the finest of silks and brocades.

Valaya drew his inspiration from these. But he fortified his style with a liberal dash of contemporary culture. The House of Valaya, opened in 1992, swears by this mantra, “The Future of the Past”. He works with traditional methods, borrowing from all over the country: His colours, texture and hand embroidery unite in sheer bliss. One can see Bengal’s Kantha, Rajasthan’s mirror work and Punjab’s flower patterns among other eclectic array of cultures in Valaya’s wear.

His high points are the sari, evening jackets for women and men’s suits and waistcoats. In these, he synthesises the ancient with the modern, the local with the global. In fact, he has often been hailed for fusing overtly Indian styles with a bold international look. One writer goes to the extent of saying that he has integrated the Indian village into the global arena. Valaya’s work “beholds further relevance as it signifies the emergence of local tradition within the global economy. Valaya has rejuvenated and redefined age-old Indian crafts as a profitable niche within the cosmopolitan market, allowing the valued artistic processes to live on despite the pressures of globalisation”.

Valaya’s rise and run have been as alluring as his creations. In 1994, he became the first designer (though some call him couturier, which is a misnomer) to hold a solo show. Soon after, he opened JJ Valaya Life, India’s largest single designer store till date.

Often walking in step with some of the world’s leading stylists, Valaya’s two apparel lines, couture and prêt, are not just innovative but also dramatically classic blending the past and present, the antique with the modern.

During one of his interviews, he said: “Valaya is all about ‘the future of the past,’ our amalgamation of various crafts, such as embroideries and weaves, that we purposefully age to look antique, combined with signature contemporary styling. While we rely on the antiquated for inspiration, we ensure a deft, modern touch with the interesting usage of Swarovski crystal (of which I am the official brand ambassador in India), experimentation with digital printing and finally, some serious fooling around with cut and detail. If you invest in the Valaya label today, you invest in an heirloom…tweaked…. but an heirloom nevertheless. Pull us out after a decade and we’re still in fashion!”

But Valaya is not just fossil. He is a lot of fun too, and his fun comes from his daringly gutsy approach to fashion. In a show last year, he presented clothes which he said would help us live at a time, in the distant future, when machines would have completely taken over men. They would be so dependent on robotic beings that humans would need sturdy, hardcore garments. Valaya’s collection took a bow to tomorrow’s technology.

And, his spirited sense took him into the deepest of dark forests, where tribes like the Masai’s, Amazons and the Samurais stimulated his creativity to help him give his collection a raw, rugged and rebellious look.

Valaya’s work is truly expansive, and as his mind wanders farther and farther away, his designs travel along virgin paths, evoking wonder and amazement.

(Webposted March 13 2007)