Delhi-based JJ Valaya, couturier, maximalist and tastemaker for the well-heeled for decades now, is a father figure for the Indian fashion industry, having begun its fashion week from the start. Valaya marked 30 years in the fashion industry with his grandiose show at the India Couture Week held in Delhi in 2022. However earlier, this year saw him venturing into a new direction, as the JJ Valaya Home launched with his experience store in JJ Marriott Hotel, Aerocity, in Delhi. LuxeBook caught up with him at The World of Valaya to introspect his venture into home décor, and his take on what it takes to make a home. The store itself is a behemoth, over 12,000 sq ft, spread across two floors. It incorporates different sections for the entire spectrum of Valaya’s interests. More than a store, it feels like his passion project, where one can experience the whole gamut of his different passions, from fashion to home décor to photography. It does feel like one is invited to his house.
A home tour
Rather than individual home décor items or sections, the brand has ventured into curating home solutions for interested parties, of course dipped in the Valaya aesthetic. In the same spirit, a curved staircase draws the eye away from a gorgeous crystal chandelier, placed right in front of an equally ornate mirror. Valaya hasn’t held back, when it comes to mixing styles, motifs and elements, in a confident display of his mastery over aesthetics. Art deco elements are interspersed with oriental motifs in the staged drawing room, brimming with curiosities. Antiques, sourced from the Jewish market in Kochi sit amongst sherwanis lined up for their final wearers. The numerous chandeliers reflect off the polished floors and ornate mirrors. Black-and-white is generously used across floors, parapets and showpieces to give a regal effect.
His signature tapestries hung across walls are well-matched by his latest collection on the racks next door. The store includes a complete dining-living-bedroom-parlour set, decorated according to the Valaya aesthetic. The soft furnishings are collaborations with some brands he likes – for instance, the rugs and carpets are all by the luxury brand OBEETEE, and the brand is soon keen on getting their own lighting design. Jumping into the décor space was an organic move, according to Valaya, “I’ve always had signature tapestries, which I’ve been doing for a while now. Leela Palace Chanakyapuri has 23 of my tapestries which they had commissioned, for instance. This was an evolutionary process for me and the brand.” Décor has been a part of the brand’s DNA, according to him, but all the photography on the store’s walls are his passion.
The rule of thirds
“I’ve always been very taken up by architectural photography,” says Valaya. The places photographed and displayed are all familiar spaces, but the artist (the designer in this case) wants you to look beyond the familiarity and discover new shapes and patterns, encouraged by the way the all-black-and-white images are arranged, almost like a Rorschach test. All the photographs on the walls was consciously his, “I love creatively expressing through my photography. Spent 30 years loving the industry. Architectural photography is all about playing with geometry. There is no beaten path to it. You must be your best critic, clothes have a functionality, art involves fashion, but they’re meant to be that way. Creation and curation goes hand-in-hand. It must also have character and beautiful lighting.”
Valaya’s love for theatre plays out in the large, restored gothic chapel façade made from wood, serving as a backdrop for the dining area. Embroidered Kutchi cushions keeps the stoic piece company, a wonderful case of opposites looking attractive together, and an even more important comment on how important styling is, in bringing different elements together, when it comes to home décor.
Aerocity might seem like an unusual location to have a store 12,000 sq ft in area, one that marries fashion, décor and photography right in the middle of a business centre. Valaya explains, “First of all, as a brand, we’ve always been unconventional in choosing our store locations. Our first retail experience was set in the wilderness in Delhi. One of the top designers at the time had called it a white elephant. We have had the best 15 years of my life in that space, away from the pack. Also, I feel that aerocity is definitely a beautiful area. There is a certain advantage of being located inside JW Marriott, a luxury hotel. The proximity to the airport works in our advantage, for a lot of our customers have flown down just to consult us.”
One end of the store, his ‘museum’ has state-of-the-art couture, with pieces that took months to design, with intricate embroidery, all costing over 20 lakh. This is not for public viewing, I’m told, only for interested customers who come by prior appointment. A private room with a sweeping oval onyx table, and velvet curtains shields the exquisite pieces from the other more public part of his store, where he has his more experimental pieces. “We want to make wedding couture more fun. We are working with materials like Tencel luxe that makes the ultimate product easy to carry and gives it a fun silhouette as well.”
Valaya assures me that he has been involved in designing each facet and corner of the shop. Every detail has been personally chosen. The store took a long time to come to fruition. The brand had two years of absolute quiet, when Valaya took a sabbatical for a year to reflect, pre-Covid.
“It starts with a dream at all times,” he tells me. “The store happened after two years of reflection, to please myself first as a spectator in the world of luxury – the new energy of the brand manifesting itself in a multi-dimensional space.” Homes had taken on a new meaning in this period, according to him. “During the lockdown and onwards, we saw a lot of working from home, entertaining from home. The interest levels in making your home a space that is warm, timeless, one that has an extreme level of personalisation, a fair sense of luxury…” became important. He feels that the store was born out of this need.” Homes should reflect personalities, and hence the store had to have his imprint everywhere — from a preset signature chevron flooring in the bar, cupboards to the same patterns on his clothes, it was all tied together with the Valaya aesthetic.
JJ Valaya – jewellers from Chandigarh, who are originally from Patiala, 1866 expertise from generations – royal jewellery – legacy jewellery – which is why we have gotten together
As a brand, they have always leaned towards sustainability, long before it was popular, he tells me. “Couture is sustainable. I wanted to make an accessible line, Tencel luxe, which ticks all boxes, is worn all over the FDCI fashion week, and so we evolved with the help of technology to produce designs that were more pret. However, couture, especially for occasion wear, as we choose to be placed, has always been something treasured, to be passed down as heirlooms, and has an inherently long shelf life. Valaya has also collaborated with one of the oldest jewellers from Chandigarh, who are originally from Patiala, for the store. Established in 1866, the family has expertise passed down for generations. Royal jewellery, legacy jewellery is what they work in, which is why the brand collaborated with them, he tells me.
“As a brand we have always been part of people’s celebrations, but this like is a completely different energy. Sometimes you need to push what you’re best at and keep pushing till no one can come close to it. That is what we aim for,” he tells me with a glint in his eye.