J.J. Valaya, India’s premier fashion maestro and the first designer to host a solo fashion show in India, was in Karachi recently, at the invitation of Style360 for their second Bridal Couture Week. He contends he does not like participating in group shows and only agreed to show in Bridal Couture Week because of his friend Vaneeza Ahmed, who was producing and choreographing the event and who, incidentally, modelled for him several years ago. Newsline caught up with Valaya for a candid chat about Indian and Pakistani fashion and his own work ethos.
Q: Why, despite so much persuasion, has it taken you 10 long years to reappear on the Pakistan fashion scene?
A: I think the reason has to do with the platform I was being offered. I prefer to do only style road-shows because then I have the opportunity to do a lot with the sets. It’s not just about clothes, it’s about creating an entire experience; whereas here, it gets limiting, as you are one of many designers and have to see to their requirements as well. Also, there were always issues cropping up between our two countries. I like to work with my own team – my choreographer, make-up artist, models – and this is the first time that I am doing a show without them.
Q: Your friendship with Vinny dates back to the time when she modelled for you several years ago. How did that happen and have any other Pakistanis modelled for you?
A: I am not quite sure how it happened. I think I met her through Ali Azmat, and then I worked with her. It’s been an old friendship. I don’t think I have worked with other Pakistani girls, but I remember reading somewhere that a model called Iman Ali had walked the ramp for me. So, I am sure she has; I don’t recall, though. Pakistani women are so breathtakingly beautiful that I feel if you can’t find good models here, I don’t know where you would find them. I don’t see the need for getting models from Dubai, etc.
The fashion councils here should get together and focus on developing a fashion industry as you have all the resources – wonderful fabric, great talent, exquisite embroidery and breathtaking beauty. It’s a perfect recipe, you simply have to put the ingredients together. What else do you need? In India we have one local fashion body, but we have fashion weeks being organised in different cities by I don’t know who. I don’t even know who sees them!
Q: Since you have come to Pakistan after such a long time, why have you limited yourself to just one day?
A: Actually, I would love to be here, but this is also a time when I have a lot of strategic tie-ups waiting for me at home. But, it would be great if such events became more regular. In fact, somebody should put together a magnum opus with Indian and Pakistani fashion.
Q: How would you compare the Indian fashion industry with that of Pakistan?
A: Well, yesterday I met a Pakistani client whose wedding clothes I had designed 16 years ago. It was a great feeling. There are amazing similarities between our two industries: it’s the same people with an imaginary line running between them. Having said that, there are some very typical silhouettes that are distinctly Pakistani, which you will not find in India – like the shalwar’s cut is very different here. Also, long kurtas are not happening at all in India, though they are the rage here.
The Indian fashion industry as a whole has evolved much more. We have a local body called the Fashion Design Council of India which is a wonderful platform for everybody, and that, I am told is missing here. I believe there are three councils in Pakistan, but I don’t think you have an industry large enough to sustain three councils. It’s like having three governments! When you do things for a greater cause, egos have to be set aside, because that’s when problems arise.
Q: Do you think fashion in India is more bling than it is in Pakistan?
A: No, we are an interesting country. If we do a Sindhi line then bling is king, but if we do something from any other part of India, it would be different. Our personal look is balanced. I absolutely adore the age of antiquity, but I think a sensible use of glitter as opposed to an overt one can add a lot of character to any garment.
Q: Do you have any favourites vis-à-vis Pakistani designers?
A: I am not that familiar with Pakistani designers. I have met a few, like Rizwan Beyg and Hasan Sheharyar, but everyone seems to be doing great work!
Q: What was the inspiration behind the bridal collection you showed at the Karachi Bridal Couture week?
A: It’s perennial – the maverick Maharajas. I have a huge connect to royalty, but at the same time I tend to infuse a lot of modern elements into my clothes, so it’s not all about embroidery and more embroidery. I think that’s one of the key areas where most Indian and Pakistani designers go wrong. Because they have access to embroidery they fill up their clothes with it. That’s not fashion! Fashion involves detailing, choice of fabric, cuts; then there is the presence of a collection, and infusing a sense of modernity to it is essential.
Q: Lawns have become big business in Pakistan and many designers are coming up with their own lawn lines. Shouldn’t this trend have caught on in India considering that we have the same kind of climate?
A: I don’t understand one thing – where is the concept of branding in this? Whenever you do a “brand” there are certain price ranges you have to adhere to, and that’s what creates its aspirational value. Doing designer lawns is not really focusing on building a brand – it’s focusing on making money. I would love to do lawn. It’s a great fabric, but I can’t work with those prices. They are far too low. As for ready-to-wear, it only makes sense if you can deal in volume. Most designers don’t have the capacity to make so much; moreover, they can’t handle the distribution.
Q: Are you planning on stocking here at all, like other Indian designers?
A: I have to understand this market first, as my ready-to-wear starts at 25,000 Indian rupees and my couture ends at 35 lakhs. So, if I were to do something here, clearly I would have to work on my lines and get them to a saleable price.
Q: Which western designer do you rate highly?
A: I think it depends on what you are looking at. Sometimes the most boring designer on the planet could also be the most successful one. Take Ralph Lauren, for instance. You would not associate him with cutting-edge fashion and yet he has a six-billion-dollar turnover, which makes him the largest fashion house in the world. So, it depends on what appeals to you – whether it’s the business aspect or the creative aspect. Every designer has his own forté, but I think in the end, it has to be a blend of the commercial and the creative. Either one cannot survive without the other.
Q: How would you rate the emerging talent in your country?
A: They are very good, but the one thing I want to tell the younger talent, whether here or in India – although they are a lot more focused on it here – is that it is very important not to lose your sense of culture, because that’s your USP, the signature of where you come from even if you plan to go global at any time. At the moment a lot of aping is taking place in India – all the top foreign fashion glossies are available there, and western-styled outfits make for great pictures.
But this could be quite misleading for younger designers looking at these pictures, as they start believing that is the look that is going to work. Commercially it doesn’t work as the outfits don’t sell. So, you may have good talent dying an early death because they got misled.