His name pops up regularly on bridal wish-lists, brings to mind elaborate creations fit for royalty, and has been setting red carpets and runways abuzz for two decades now.
In the twenty years that J. J. Valaya has spent in couture and fashion, the industry in India has pretty much grown in front of his eyes. 'Imagine, when I was starting off, putting labels on clothes was an entirely unknown concept! There were no retail outlets, everyone went to their local tailor, there were no magazines or TV shows dedicated to fashion… Fast forward to today, where it has grown into a billion-dollar industry. More than changing, I think the industry has been formed before my eyes. There was a time, decades ago, when India was famous as the land of three-dollar garments, ‘bulk’ and ‘cheap’ were the key words,' he reminisces.
Today, in comparison, an Indian designer outfit can command a seven-figure price! A country with a rich heritage of embroidery and handwork is finally getting the world to sit up and take notice. If today’s Indian couture is mentioned in the same breath as global fashion biggies like Karl Lagerfeld, and the country has arrived as a fashion destination, then Valaya is certainly one name that helped it get there.
Fashion is just one of Valaya’s creative pursuits — décor and photography are his other loves. 'My domain is the art sphere and I firmly believe that one should do what one loves,' he says. 'Find me a way to have more free time and I would happily take up photography again,' he says, adding that his ultimate dream is to pursue art without having to worry about anything else. 'The art world is free... there are no demands, no trends to set. Creativity is so personal.'
He prefers ‘couturier’ over other descriptors such as fashion designer because, he says, couturiers are dream-makers — the ones who create not just beautiful clothes but fantasies out of fabric. 'We work for eight months, and we have to pack all that hard work and inspiration into a 20-minute show... so, of course, it’s going to be dramatic and larger than life!'
With the fashion week dedicated to bridal couture in its fourth edition, and promising to go international in 2014, Valaya believes Indian couture is coming of age, as are today’s brides. 'I think today’s Indian bride has definitely evolved,' he says, recalling how shy brides once used to walk into his atelier with their mothers, grandmothers and a host of aunts, all of whom had a say in what the bride would wear.