JJ Valaya on building his maison and what inspires him to create

In an exclusive interview with Bazaar India, the leading couturier speaks about 'The World of Valaya', the the evolution of his brand, and much more.

Harper's Bazaar India

Known as the monarch of Indian Fashion, JJ Valaya is no less than an icon and father figure for the industry. Hugely motivated by history and the past, this leading designer has remarkably taken these learnings to make it relevant in the modern day and age as he continues to make a mark by creating for today, and not for tomorrow. While his creations never fail to leave us in awe, it's 'The World of Valaya' his passion project that's caught everyone's eye. It certainly does feel that one's stepped right inside his mind as they get to witness and experience his love for all things fashion, home décor, and photography. 

The designer speaks about creating a space that showcases the brand ethos of the JJ Valaya name, his early days in the world of fashion, the Valaya decor aesthetic, and the things that inspire him.  

Nandini Bhalla: JJ, what inspired you to launch your beautiful—and all embracing—maison? 

JJ Valaya: Most people are unaware that about 27 years ago, I created a similar space called JJ Valaya Life—it was not as detailed, but witnessed 15 beautiful years. Cut to 2019, I took a sabbatical for two years with an idea to create something that’s missing in India. No couture house had created a cohesive space in an urban setting that would reflect the values of the JJ Valaya brand across disciplines. I was clear that I wanted to focus on my three primary loves—fashion, home, and photography. This is how The World of Valaya came into being.

NB: Tell us how brand Valaya evolved... 

JJV: I studied to be a chartered accountant, and decided to join the fashion industry at a time when the fashion movement in India was taking roots. I was fortunate to be one of the first generation of Indian designers. It was a different time; there were no publications, fashion journalists, editors, and TV channels. And there were barely any fashion stores selling designer garments. Unfortunately, that also meant there were no clients because people were still warming up to the idea of wearing someone’s brand on their clothes. That is where my greatest learnings came from, because we had no benchmarks...we learnt everything from scratch. Today, of course, our focus is on ensuring that the brand maintains the levels of perfection we have always strived for. And at the same time, you want to reach more people. So whilst couture remains our best-known signature for over three decades and we’ve had the privilege of dressing some of the finest people across the world, we are equally excited about our bridge-to-luxury line, JJV Kapurthala. It’s with the same signature, but is more modern, accessible, and wearable. We also have Valaya Home, an interior-architecture-furniture brand for bespoke luxury. Then, of course, I continue to dabble in photography. I always wish I had more time for that, because it remains a passion. We are working on a number of things, but those must be spoken about when they happen. I shall be 56 soon, and every single day, I yearn to be able to create something even more beautiful than what was before.

NB: Tell us about the finer details that are a part of The World of Valaya. 

JJV: Every inch of the space has been designed in detail by me! I believe that a signature must express itself in all its glory. There aren’t any two spaces that look alike in The World of Valaya. Every season, we release the ‘shifting leaves chevron’—a signature that people can’t get enough of. Reflected in The World of Valaya is a multiculturally-inspired curious mix that heralds our philosophy of the old and the new.

NB: How would you define the Valaya decor aesthetic? 

JJV: We find beauty in contradiction, and that’s my mantra. I’ve never believed in the predictable. The aesthetics are multicultural, modern, yet with a hint of history. I like to play with materials that look like they don’t work well together until we put them together and it works great. Homes are built with memory and should be a safe haven. In fact, beautiful energy, laughter and joy—often overlooked because people get caught up in the trivialities of everyday life—are essential to create a beautiful home. People have now realised how much value they give to a home and not a house. I have always maintained the aesthetic—the royal nomad with a passion for Art Deco—and between these lines, The World of Valaya comes alive.

NB: What inspires you to create? 

JJV: “There is no formula as such, inspiration exists all around you. Since I am a photographer, I’m a keen observer. My inspiration comes from lost civilisations, mysticism, also comes from beauty and from a deep desire to absorb and reinterpret history in a modern, relevant way so that it stays alive for the years to come.”

Clothes and accessories credit: Chevron Alika Jacket, price on request, Chevron Sari set, ₹89,000, and Triangle Natural Ruby Earrings with Tanzanite, natural coral and diamonds, price on request Chevron Anarkali, ₹48,000 and Triangle Natural Ruby Necklace with Tanzanite, natural coral and diamonds, price on request

Credit: Stlying: Palak Valecha; Photography: Harmeet Singh Sana; Models: Mehak Vinayak and Ayesha Siddiqi; Hair and make-up: Riya Saluja