‘Our women are driving design, merging heritage with style’
Currently working on her Spring-Summer 2019 collection, which will be showcased in Paris, designer Payal Jain is not resting easy despite completing 25 years in a competitive industry where you are as good as your last collection. She tells Chahak Mittal how she needs blood-rushing deadlines, over-ambitious targets and endless working hours to give her best
India has been widely accepting global fashion trends. What changes have you brought about in your designs that involve international as well as Indian fashion cultures?
I have always created Western garments from the inception of my business in the early 1990s. At that time, Indian fashion sensibility of most consumers was very ethnic. Over the last two decades, I have seen these preferences change completely across the country. We have gone from a primarily saree/salwar kameez-wearing nation to one where jeans, pants, dresses and skirts have become the standard way of dressing in the cosmopolitan cities. This is limited to not only a few cities but has also filtered down to tier II and III cities. Today the Indian consumer is well aware of the global trends and is up to date with international fashion. They want the latest fashion trends and are cost-conscious, expect comfort and durability and need an ease of wearing and maintaining.
I have followed the international fashion predictive to an extent from the beginning of my career but these are good only for a broad guideline of the season. They cannot be adhered to completely while creating collections which represent your brand identity and ethos. That is a personal journey and the one, which each brand must define. Earlier, we used to create different collections for the Indian market and Western trade shows as market preferences varied. Those days are long gone, now we book orders on the same collections across the globe as well as India.
Design as a sensibility is flowing from fashion to the commonest utility item. What has led to such artful consciousness?
‘Design’ is about your aesthetics in relation to the nature of art, beauty and taste with the creation of something beautiful. Design encompasses various facets of life, such as fashion, lifestyle, home furnishing, textiles, products, interiors, art, music, cuisine and travel. For an artist, everything becomes a medium of expression, be it a canvas or a loom, an instrument, a wall, a piece of textile, a mound of clay or a roll of paper. Design aesthetics have evolved greatly over the last few years. Today people want creative choices and options in everything, be it fashion, interiors, home furnishings, products, accessories, etc. They are also willing to pay a premium for creativity; hence I believe this shift has come about globally.
The Scandinavian countries, France, Italy and Japan were leaders in their particular design aesthetics for many years but now the whole world has followed suit and each country is creating its own unique handwriting.
There was a time when Indian formal design was about ceremonial lines and Western silhouettes in informal wear. Now Indians are more comfortable in their own skin, styling and cuts, silhouettes too. How have you tracked this change as somebody who has been around for 25 years?
That is very true. After graduating from the US, I returned home to start a career in fashion. We, as designers, were still treated as glorified tailors and no one understood that there was a skill and education required to pursue a career in fashion. Today, designers have a huge fan following and are treated as celebrities but the journey to this day has been long and hard. I ventured into designing Western outfits at a time when they were unheard of in India. When I started my fashion label in the early 90s, most Indians believed that an outfit was worth money only if it was a saree or an Indian ensemble, because it would be preserved as an heirloom or passed down to the generations. A beautifully draped gown or immaculately constructed suit was never their natural choice and certainly not an expensive one. Western outfits were limited to casual day wear, mostly by young people and a selected few corporate ladies. Western couture was neither heard of nor appreciated.
I have always been passionate about Indian textiles and crafts and merged these with Western silhouettes from the inception of my label 25 years ago. During those days, there was a minuscule market, which was at its best for this marriage between the East and the West, but I believed it was my strength and I stuck to it against all odds. Slowly, the customer sensibility evolved in India and from a handful of clients, my label now creates for a large segment of discerning women across the globe. The Indian woman is comfortable with her body, confident of her goals, clear about her choices and wants to make her own unique style statement. She no longer needs to hide behind the garb of tradition; she is proud of her heritage and carries it with dignity. Today, the entire world looks at India for its textile heritage and fashion amalgamation, catering to the global audience.
What are the shortcomings of being an individual designer given the growing preference for an online fashion market? Why aren’t individual designers forming a collective for prêt wear?
I sincerely wish designers would come together on a common platform, online being the most logical choice today. Individually, one can only expand one’s repertoire to a limited extent, no matter how organised or professional your organisation may be. Coming together as an industry is the most pragmatic way forward in my mind as the market for Indian designers is immense, both in India and globally.
There was a time when the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) was a cherished institution. What ails it now?
NIFT has shaped a whole new world of making fashion an aspired career choice for the youth in India. Several generations have benefitted from this institution and it remains India’s premiere institute for fashion studies even after all these years. I am not a product of NIFT so I won’t comment on what has changed internally with time but I do believe that spreading out too much with so many different locations creates a big challenge when it comes to maintaining quality and standards. I believe quality reigns over quantity and both must go hand-in-hand for growth.
How has women’s sense of style evolved over the years?
Fashion in India has gone through a revolution in the last two decades; the design sensibility of the consumer has changed completely from an ethnic and traditional taste to the current modern and global language. I feel blessed to have been a part of this change.
What is the project that you are currently associated with?
I am currently working on my new flagship store, which is in its designing stage at the moment and occupies every waking hour of my mind space. Other than that, there are a dozen or more corporate projects in hand spread over several countries. Also, Spring-Summer 2019 is getting ready to be showcased in Paris.
Do you refer to trend books like Promostyl for your designs? If not Promostyl, then what?
Fashion predictive is necessary for every fashion brand for basic season guidelines. Promostyl is very good but I personally like WGSN, as it is extremely comprehensive and well-articulated.
Fashion designers have a constant role throughout the year since trends keep changing with seasons. Do you feel burdened at times? How do you tackle the pressure?
My work is my biggest passion. It is a constant high for me like a shot of adrenaline pumping fire into my veins. I need nothing else to keep me on my toes day after day, month after month and year after year.
In fashion, you have to have something new to say in every two weeks, else your client will get bored or weary of waiting. There is a tremendous pressure to constantly create something fresh and new, keeping the brand ethos intact.
However, this is the best part of the business because there is never a dull moment and you are considered as good as your last collection, no matter how many years you may have been in the business of fashion. Everyone has an opinion on fashion, like food and films. I, personally, love the blood rush of crazy deadlines, endless working hours and unreasonable delivery schedules and over-ambitious targets. It drives me to give my best each day. I think a slower pace of work would bore me, I work at my best under pressure and what I achieve at those times is my absolute personal best.
Name a celebrity whose fashion trends you adore.
Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
Travel, nature, history and art, everything inspires me. I think the beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.
If you are looking for it, everything can and will inspire you. Inspiration for a collection can take root with a beautiful flower blooming, a mesmerising sunrise and travel to a new destination, a great book, a historical period or a character, an artist’s work or simply an inspired frame of mind. My love for India and its glorious past, rich culture, vast textile heritage, incredible costumes, musical legacy, art and architecture have all come together to inspire my work in fashion.
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