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Romancing Russia

From Madrid in Europe to Morocco in Northern Africa and now Russia, Delhi-based couturier JJ Valaya has certainly covered quite a long distance. Not just geographically but also creatively as the designer keeps evolving with every collection. His latest collection, inspired by a nation having an interesting past, was presented at the BMW India Bridal Fashion Week.
For Valaya, who draws motivation from far-off destinations but makes them relevant to Indian tastes, observation plays a key role. Before starting off on his collection, Valaya thoroughly studies his subject like an inquisitive student, eager to absorb as much information and aesthetics and then translates them to suit the Indian way of life. He makes no bones about the fact that fellow Indians are his client, not foreigners.
And in all his collections, whether it was inspired from Madrid, Morocco and now Russia, which he presented through Bolshoi Bazaar at the BMW India Bridal Fashion Week, the historical antecedents of these places have been the centrepiece of the whole drama. “I am a nomad who keeps travelling. I have travelled across the globe. This is what I have been doing for the past 24 years. It is part of our DNA. I have been to Russia on a couple of occasions. I even showcased one of my collections at St. Petersburg. But my last visit was five or six years ago.”

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In this collection, Valaya showcased saris, sherwanis and anarkalis with a Russian touch by using headgears worn during the reign of Czars, Russian hats, crystals in tangerine and green, light turquoise, gold patina and black patina.
The Indianness is also apparent through his use of appliqué, embroidery and weaves.
Valaya did not play on the common features between the two countries. “Relations between the two countries are good and ties have been cordial for many years. But we steer clear of diplomacy. Commonness does not fascinate me. Our brand thrives on contradiction. I like contradiction; in fact, contradiction is beautiful. We choose a country only if it is known for its cultural heritage and royal lineage. I would never make a collection inspired by America.”
He has also highlighted the contradiction between the two countries by using fine fabrics like georgettes and crepes and embossed them with digital printing technique.
Contradiction was also visible when models draped in sherwanis sporting Ushanka, traditional Russian caps, strode on the ramp.
Noting that he does not mix work with pleasure while travelling overseas, Valays says, “I don’t like to kill two birds with one stone. If I am travelling on a foreign jaunt for holiday then I don’t fulfil my work commitment or vice-versa. Travelling is important as we are required to weave a story around every collection.”
For the couturier, known for giving opulent Indian attires a royal touch, the attraction was not just the aristocratic Czars but also other periods.
“Of course, royalty plays a vital role in the history of a place. But we also covered other facets of Russia because they give a different dimension of the country. I found the Nomadic period very interesting, then ethnic, pre-rebellion architecture. But I did not take inspiration from the Russian revolution or the Perestroika and Glasnost because I do not like working on the politics of the place.”
Explaining the rationale for showing the nomadic side of the erstwhile Soviet Union, the couturier says the history of every nation has a king and his subjects. “We also know that the concept of Raja and praja exist in every country. So I also glorified the people.”
But in all this, Valaya makes sure that the Indian-ness is palpable in each attire. It is blended with a foreign country.
He retained Indian attires like sherwanis at the recently concluded fashion week because he wanted the audience to discern the huge contradiction existing between Indian textiles and Russian motifs.
“I am an Indian and make dresses essentially for Indians within the country and overseas.”
Last minute changes were there but the alterations were limited. There would be certain additions to the collection, which soon travels to other Indian cities. “There would only be additions and no improvisation.
After all it took us eight months to put together this collection. Every collection is part of the same evolution. Basic parameters remain the same.
The collection will be showcased in major metros of the country.”

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