He is an instinctive couturier, a spontaneous artist, a visual master and a craft juggler. His design eye turns gleefully towards what he creates and like a child lost in a candy store, he allows his heart to prevail as he gets going on a design. Off he goes mixing textures with prints, cutting his textiles into scrumptious silhouettes, adding delectable details and finishing a masterpiece with regal embellishments.
JJ Valaya is an artist who exists in the past perfect. A royal nomad, who in the same breath can think both as a royal and a nomad. He is a visionnaire and a design professional who ‘lives life king-size’, with dollops of guts and perseverance thrown in. He possesses a sense of adventure, which has prompted him to launch the Valaya world online with www.valaya.com. He is working away, pat in the midst of a pandemic, even when many of his contemporaries are in total denial. He laughs, “Just as I returned refreshed from a self-imposed two-year sabbatical, the world went indoors in what is being seen as a global lockdown, or as I like to call it, the forced holiday.” And so, JJ, refreshed and raring to go, did not put a spanner to his thoughts. Instead, he galloped ahead to launch the store online. “It was a simple reversal. We were gearing up to launch our flagship brick and mortar store, which we have predictably put on hold. Instead, we launched an online store.”
He calls it his “doorway to the world, a stepping stone to reach out to heritage seekers across India who can now shop a Valaya, sitting in the comfort of their homes.” It is only after he has reached out to the four corners of India that he will talk to the rest of the world, sharing his India story with heritage seekers, “may they be living in any physical zone of this universe.” Valaya shares, “I like to see myself as a geek, a tech child. We took our first step online as early as the 90s when we launched our website. It was, at that time, a brand piece and not for e-commerce.” Taking it to the commerce side then was just about shifting gears for him. He says, “I have signed off 2020. Let’s face it, most in the industry have. In fact, if you look deeply, half of those who, like us, started 30 years ago have fallen off the grid. The other half is trying to remain afloat this historic year.” Valaya instead is using this time to re-launch, introspect, take the world’s eye towards the many little stories he created this year.
With the launch of his ecommerce site, he brings alive a host of well-conjured design entities that go from uber luxe to bridge lines, seamlessly so. To begin with is a bespoke story that carries forward his muse series. It is a realm where only the most reverent of craftsmanship is allowed entry. These are pieces of indulgence, created for women who are collectors at heart, restless souls who cannot think of wearing anything that is not ‘one of’. He calls this line “Tabriz 19 — 2020” and interprets the magical world of Persia through his three loved design bastions: that of the regal and royal, the vibrant nomad and the glamorous Art Deco era. He says, “For me, everything is instinctive, a visual creation. I don’t want to pretend to be a craft protagonist or a textile exponent. For me creating something is a visual process.”
He also takes his version of the chevron, mixing with its architectural influences of his birth state, Rajasthan. He calls it the “Shifting Leaves Chevron” and explains that his designs are influenced by the Art Deco palaces of Rajasthan as he turns the leaves inwards to create his own version of this classic. Also from Rajasthan comes his menswear line that he calls Jhalamand. Named after the Jhalamand House where he was born to Brigadier J. S. Ahluwalia, who was serving the Indian army and was allotted a sprawling home which must have belonged to the erstwhile noble family of Jhalamand. “It stands demolished today. But it still remains as a collective memory to me as my place of birth.” He shares an interesting anecdote: “Raghavendra Rathore and I were born in the same hospital five hours apart.” And as they say, you can take someone out of Rajasthan but you can’t take Rajasthan out of them. Hence, Jhalamand is a simple monochrome collection of shirts in black or white that are either classic or Mandarin-collared or a range of short kurtas.
Using the versatility of the online realm he will soon also launch his Ika Jackets, which he calls “the younger sibling of the very successful Alika Jacket.” These are DIY and patrons can go online and click away to bring alive their personal version of the jacket. “They can choose the colour, piping, print and embroidery and see their Ika come alive on their screen!” Call him the designer with a vision, a photographer who is a visual genius or someone who creates visual classics, one thing is for sure: anything Valaya does becomes a visual treat.