The decision to start my own label came after the flip of a coin,” says acclaimed fashion designer, JJ Valaya. This revelation stumps me when I meet him on a Friday afternoon at a five star hotel in Nariman Point.
“After our graduation, Ashish Soni and I were sitting on the steps of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) building and thinking about our next course of action. He asked me whether we should work together. I told him it was a bad idea. Then he asked me whether we should look for a job. I suggested that we flip a coin. Heads, we do our own thing and tails, we go and get a job. Fortunately, it was heads and that’s how we launched our own labels.
Till today, Ashish thanks me for that decision,” guffaws the czar of Indian couture.
Till a few months back, JJ Valaya was a regular visitor to Mumbai. “But I came here after almost four months this time around,” he said. He likes the city’s positive vibe. “And where in Delhi would I get this?” he asked, pointing to the vast expanse of the sea, outside the window of the hotel. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi.
After designing for the crème de la crème of Bollywood and the Indian fashion fraternity for more than two decades and showcasing his creations at the most reputed fashion weeks, it’s easy to presume that the turning point of Valaya’s career could have been a huge international fashion show. But his answer is anything but that. “I quit Chartered Accountancy to do something I had no idea about. I believe there’s divinity at play at times, and you just have to grasp the right moment. Something propelled me to tread new grounds,” says the designer. The second-most important factor, he adds, was to get admission into NIFT, which had recently opened then. “It was really one of those big, magical moments of my life. After that, the magic of life took over,” he smiles.
The beginning of the era
Valaya’s journey has been truly magical. The designer launched his brand House of Valaya and his couture label ‘JJ Valaya’ in the year 1992. Since then, he has gone on to become one of the founding members on the Board of Governors of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), the first Indian designer to showcase his creations along with an American designer (Todd Oldham) in New York at the Plaza Hotel in 1998 and is today, one of India’s leading fashion gurus.
The 46-year-old, who is known for his ethnic designs, resplendent with intricate embroidery and handiwork, has expanded his horizons by curating home décor, furniture and lifestyle accessories with Home of the Traveler, a concept store. In a couple of months, he will also launch the Valaya Home, which will venture into designing spaces and signature furniture and accessories. The Delhiite says, “I believe if you stop evolving, you stop living. I suppose it’s a matter of what you truly enjoy doing, because then you don’t think of it as expansion and evolution. You do it simply because you enjoy it so much and that totally changes your perspective.”
Person behind the personality
For somebody who has enjoyed fame — nationally as well as internationally — Valaya remains a private person. Ask him about his spiritual leanings and he clams up. “I’m deeply spiritual but it’s a private world. It’s the biggest treasure I possess,” he reveals. Though he comes across as someone who is greatly attached to his family and extremely guarded about them, he confesses that there is another side of his personality, which is not known to many. “Though I’m a family man, I’m a loner who loves to travel alone. It’s a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation,” he laughs.
He confesses that travel for him means experiencing the world rather than just sightseeing. “I prefer going to places which are culturally-charged. So America doesn’t interest me but every country in Europe does. I like to discover places on my own. I get off somewhere and walk, live for extended periods in a city and really soak in the experience,” he elaborates.
The artiste also has a penchant for photography. His romance with the camera started while he was studying fashion. Over the years, he has held two shows, released a coffee table book of his photographs and his work has also made it to private museums. “I love photography because I do it for myself. It doesn’t matter to me whether people love or hate my pictures,” he says before revealing that he’s yet to discover the functions of all the buttons on the camera. “I just press the shutter,” he laughs. The father of two reveals an anecdote when he had released the coffee-table book. “My photographer friends had attended the launch and praised my efforts. One of them told me that the fact that I haven’t learnt photography is what works in my favour. I shoot from the soul, from the composition point of view, not from the technical point of view,” he adds.
Valaya walks the ramp at a fashion show. File pic
The self-confessed foodie admits that though he doesn’t cook, he would love to try his hand at baking and even open a bakery someday. “There’s something very sensual about baking. I’m sure I’ll be a very creative baker,” he smiles. Ask him if this is a part of his retirement plans and he seems almost outraged at the thought. “My God, how can you even talk about retirement? That’s the most boring thing on earth! What is retirement after all? That’s the time when you want to relax and do things that you love. Well, then people who do what they love are retired for life,” he shares his philosophy. Touché!
Movie: I love movies. I can watch one a day. When it comes to films, music and food, I make no distinction. I love everything.
Sport: There was a time when I used to play squash, so that still remains a favourite
Destination: Europe. You can let me loose there and I can hibernate
Best friends: In no particular order, Rajesh Pratap, Rohit Bal, Ashish Soni, Suneet Verma, Manish Malhotra and Reena Dhaka
Born: October 8, 1967
First break: Interned with Rohit Khosla
Mantra: Now is what matters. Your present decides your future, not the other way around
Best advice: I think I got it from my own conscience when I quit CA
First outfit i designed: It was a jacket which I made for a friend in 1989. I did it to earn some pocket money and I got Rs 250 for it