A world trimmed with nostalgia

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Join us on a private tour of JJ Valaya’s luxurious new jasmine-scented Delhi store, through a Jamavar lobby, the museum of single-edition masterpieces and a precious jewellery private lounge

Join us on a private tour of JJ Valaya’s luxurious new jasmine-scented Delhi store, through a Jamavar lobby, the museum of single-edition masterpieces and a precious jewellery private lounge

“Instagram ensures that I have a store in every country of the world, but to experience true luxury one has to come here.”

By here, he means his newly opened 12,000 square feet World of Valaya store at JW Mariott in New Delhi’s Aerocity. In the making for over two years, it offers a full spectrum of the designer’s personality on display: clothes, antique collectibles and his experiments with black and white photography.

“Today tech is very important, and we do intend to sell virtually as well, but a luxury buying experience is still best experienced in an old-school retail setting,” says Valaya. To begin with, a distinct fragrance of jasmine permeates each room, underlining the designer’s conviction that a luxury buying experience is not just fabrics, workmanship or price points: it must tantalise and convince the buyer’s every sense.

There is nary a bare wall. Vintage textiles and hand-painted scenes cover the entire length and breadth of this maze of a store. A new-bridge-to-luxury fashion brand: JJV (made from eco-conscious textile Tencel Luxe), which debuted at the recently concluded FDCI X Lakme Fashion Week, occupies the opening section featuring Valaya’s most accessible line, starting at ₹15,000.

As you walk down the Art Deco-inspired staircase to the den level, a historic war chest welcomes you: it stands at the opening of a larger-than-life Jamawar Lobby. The walls are fabricated using original antique jamawar shawls. One refrains from trying to calculate the cost of this endeavour; jamawars gain value as they age.

Valaya’s signature chevron patterned ceiling is decorated with pendant lights to show that the house offers lighting design as a part of their larger interiors design portfolio. (Just in time; the pandemic and lockdowns made home design and interiors one of the most lucrative markets) The centre of the store houses a life-size wooden church altar. There is a bar room, living room spaces featuring statement chaises, sofas and antique collectibles including rare idol forms of Indian gods from across the country and the world.

Valaya has often said that his true legacy is rediscovering inspiration from lost empires and civilisations. The spice route and the Ottoman Empire have found many references in his collections over the years and while the clothing lines are Indian at heart, the inspiration for them comes from around the world; a thought he carries forward with his interiors offerings at the store.

The bridal and occasion-wear collections are to the left. A ‘museum’ section showcases single-edition masterpieces. These are bridal looks, each over 20 kilograms at the least considering the embroidery and craft they are adorned with and displayed with their dupattas as tapestries. Each can be classified a collectible in itself, and may have take months, if not not years to conceptualise and execute.

His house signatures — the Alika and Ika jackets — are present for you to style your own way. The menswear offering is as large as the womenswear and features brightly-printed and embroidered sherwani, bandhgalas and kurta sets, along with his famed Jhalamand shirts and menswear accessories.

However, the truly inspiring section at the store is the precious jewellery private lounge set up in association with Jagdish Jewellers from Chandigarh (since 1866). “We’ve realised brides now expect us to participate in their full looks; and a cohesive bond between the clothes and jewellery is important. It seemed mandatory to have a fine jewellery section that carried our sensibility forward,” explains Valaya.

Original Burmese rubies, Zambian emeralds and Basra pearls are crafted into old-style, one-off statement jewellery sets suited for royalty. Pieces fit for a time capsule. The craftsmanship is unique and requires a second viewing to truly take in their essence and nuanced design.

On a private tour of the store, Valaya proclaims, “Timelessness is the mandatory requirement for true luxury.” As he celebrates his 30th year in business, he says watching young brides return to the studio to refurbish their mother’s bridal lehengas, designed over 25 years ago, is true testament of his design philosophy .

Given the scale of his work, it is obvious he must be keeping several cluster of artisans busy; however any deeper conversation on crafts and textiles is shushed. “I’m not a historian, but can I offer you something dramatic enough to be a part of your celebration? That is the real mission.”

Given the times we live in, and the changing face of bridal wear — one that is bent towards weaves, lightness and wearability, one wonders how do you look at Valaya or any other couture brands’ historically inspired offerings from a 2022 lens? The brand has always been maximalist, but his designs —for both the human body and home are not more meets more, or some inspired texture meets print reference. It’s actually his luxe details and how much he is able to offer via one look. Even his collection of black and white photographs on sale; posed portraits shot in studios and streets mounted on fabric canvases, then further embellished with embroidery and hand-painted designs.

There is this distinct sense that buying into the Valaya brand is not just about fashion, especially now that the store offers a whole spectrum of things. There is a museum-worthy quality to his sensibility. The brand functions as a custodian of an era gone by. To buy a Valaya piece is to perhaps keep history alive. As we finish the tour, Valaya candidly shares, once the maharani from the erstwhile ruling family of Kapurthala entered his studio and proclaimed, “You are the future of the past.” Indeed.

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