Exclusive: JJ Valaya on working with Ruth Carter in Wakanda Forever, refined couture, future of fashion & more

JJ Valaya: ‘I like to create timelessness. That is my strength.’

JJ Valaya, JJ Valaya Black Panther, JJ Valaya Wakanda Forever, Chivas, JJ Valaya Chivas, fashion, lifestyle
"I worked with Ruth Carter, who now is historical, as the only woman who has won two Oscars one after the other," JJ Valaya said.

JJ Valaya, India’s premier fashion maestro needs no introduction. Known for his maximal fashion, the ace designer has come a long way with a pret line, ready-to-wear labels, home decor. He is the man behind Ruth Carter’s looks in Wakanda Forever. During an interaction at Chivas Alchemy, JJ Valaya told that working on Wakand Forever turned out to be one of his “finest experiences.” Excerpts from the interview

1. When and how did you decide to become a designer?

I am a designer because of divine intervention. I was starting to be a Chartered Accountant in the late 80s, and then I was very clear that I knew what I did not want to do without knowing what I wanted to do. So, I quit my CA and for a year scouted around for something creative because that was in my very gene. And finally found fashion, which had just begun in India with NIFT opening up. There was no fashion institute in the country, so the first institute to open and I decided around the same time, so probably this is how it all came about.

2. Tell us something about your association with Chivas.

Well, I think they’ve been progressive as Chivas has been involved in fashion and lifestyle, and I think that’s very important. Because when a major brand comes together with some well-known brands and creates an entirely new experience and new property, which is buzzing and happening, there can be nothing better than that. So, I think it’s all about pure style and the coming together of great designers, and great alchemists with Chivas, which is absolutely and perhaps one of the most amazing steps that have been taken in the recent past.

3. Tell us something about your experience designing for Wakanda Forever.

Well, I worked with Ruth Carter, who now is historical, as the only woman who has won two Oscars one after the other! And I can tell you the experiencmind-bogglingggling. Because working between LA and Delhi during the pandemic, over phone calls, over zoom sessions, over shipments, going up and down was magical! But eventually, when it all came together and you know Queen Ramonda’s character played by Angela Bassett, every single piece stood out. Because that was the only chance where the kind of clothes I do, stood a chance, everything is very futuristic. So, I think it turned out to be one of my finest experiences. It was a second run with Ruth. I’ve done Coming to America with Eddie Murphy before that. If all goes well, who knows, we might be working on something more.

4. How is it behind the scenes? Do you have specifications while hiring Karigars and how does it work?

I’m a stickler for detail. I have OCD.

I want to get into everything. I want to know how it’s being done, why it’s being done and why is it not being done the way it should be done. And when you think like that, normally two by products come out. Either you get the best team and that always takes time and all the people who enthusiastically join, if they don’t shape up, they ship out. So, over the years we’ve managed to create a wonderful team of Karigars, of Masters, of my Assistants.

And I simply won’t have it any other way. I mean the amazing part actually is what I tell whenever I do get a chance to talk to people is that, 33 years later I am still as excited about my next line as I was when I started. And I think that truly shows the vibrancy of design. You know that how beautifully it can really foster ones deepest senses.

5. Do you like experimenting with textiles, handicrafts and techniques, or believe in sticking to the basics?

I like to create timelessness. That is my strength. Now to create that in a great fabric, great textile, great craft, great craftsmanship, great avenues, whatever it takes as long as I am able to create something which will stand the test of time which will be deemed pure luxury.

Which will be relevant maybe 20 years later as well. If I can achieve all that then I know I have succeeded.

6. You play a lot with black and whites. what’s the story behind that?

So black and white and you can see it’s all over (referring to the outfit he was wearing). The shifting leaf Chevron is unique to us and its one of our coolest statements. And the reason is very simple, I find black and not white but ivory in our case as the neutral palette that sort of balances everything and then the glory of color when juxtaposed against it, you know, stands out in known ways. So, I strongly believe that the art of balance lives in doing something very neutral, in control and then sort of garnishing it with something splendid and grand.

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First published on: 17-05-2023 at 12:56 IST