Years ago, an eight-year-old girl was introduced to sketching. Her mother played the sitar, and her father played the flute. This young girl herself dabbled in classical Odissi dance, Hindustani classical music and more. Gradually, her love for arts transformed into a passion for fashion, and she decided to pursue it seriously. Armed with a degree in fashion design from FIDM, San Francisco, she stood at the cusp of the fashion industry, which in those days (1993), was still in its nascent stages, and according to her, "a time when designers were treated like glorified tailors."
It's 2017, and that young girl is creating waves in the fashion industry with her designs. Meet Payal Jain, one of the top-rated fashion designers in the country today. Her designs, which are a perfect mix of desi and Western styles, have been donned by celebrities like Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra. Payal's clientele also includes many hospitality and corporate firms, both here and abroad. A big fan of colours, Payal is partial to natural fabrics and loves working with cotton, silk, linen and wool.
For Payal, the fact that the fashion industry never sees a dull moment is attractive. "The volatility, the constant evolution, the adrenaline rush, the highs and lows, the larger-than-life nature of each presentation, the amazingly crazy people who make up the business, the burning passion, the inevitable growth, the reinvention each season, and the fact that it keeps me on my toes is what entices me," she says.
Excerpts from an interview:
What's your design philosophy?
For me, fashion is a way of life. It is not only the clothes you wear, but also the destinations you travel to, the cuisine you enjoy, the furnishings you choose for your home, the choice of art you collect, and also the car you drive. My creations speak a global language, yet possess a strong Indian soul. I believe my designs have a Western body and an Indian soul. My creations are subtle, minimalistic, and strongly Indian at heart, yet appeal to global citizens and speak an international and contemporary language.
My label is an extension of my personality. I work with Indian textiles and crafts and have always been passionate about creating fabrics from scratch. My deepest joy lies in being able to see what I have envisioned come alive on a weaver's loom or an embroiderer's adda. It takes a lot of time, patience, love and passion to wait and watch each collection slowly taking shape.
How has the experience of designing for the corporate world been?
I have been working with the hospitality and corporate sectors for the last two decades. Our first corporate design project was the Leela, Goa in 1995. Since then, we have designed the uniform philosophy for over 100 hotels and corporate houses. This takes as much passion and energy as high-fashion labels. However, the contrast between the two realms of design remains vast.
Fashion on the ramp can be mad, eccentric, expensive, exquisite and delicate, but the fashion philosophy for a hotel or corporate house needs to be practical, versatile, durable, cost-effective and universal for all skin tones, shapes and sizes. Also, each corporate/hotel has its unique identity and brand philosophy, which must come across as the first impression.
What's your take on the evolution of fashion in the country?
I feel blessed to have been a part of it. When I moved back from the US and started my label, fashion was a grossly misunderstood word in most people's vocabulary. There were a handful of designers like Rohit Khosla and Ritu Kumar. Most people did not understand the relevance of fashion designers. I started my atelier in Hauz Khas village for Western couture and pret-a-porter ensembles.
Most people who came there couldn't fathom why a well-structured, beautifully cut business suit in cashmere needed to cost more than an average silk salwar kameez. Working women wore only saris or salwar kameez for work, and western womenswear market was practically non-existent here. Today, thanks to the Internet and globalisation, Indian women have moved from saris and salwars to ball gowns and business suits. The evolution of Indian women's fashion aesthetics has been mind-boggling.
Do you believe Indian textiles are finally getting their due?
I feel we have made a beginning as far as promoting Indian textiles and crafts are concerned, but there is a long journey ahead. A lot of sustained work and commitment is required from everyone related to the fashion and textile industry for the lives of weavers and artisans across India to really begin to change. I am happy to see the government creating many new initiatives to promote textiles, and I sincerely hope this movement will build momentum and take the world by storm. We are blessed to have such a rich and varied heritage of textiles, where each state has something unique to offer from weaves to embroideries and prints.
According to you, what are the fashion basics every woman should know?
* Your fashion statement must be unique to you and be a representation of who you are.
* Your outfit should bring out the best in you and be flattering to your body type, skin tone, hair colour etc.
* Don't follow fashion blindly, create your own fashion language.
* Experiment with your wardrobe, have fun with accessories, and mix and match separates. Have a versatile approach to dressing.
* Enjoy the process of creating new looks. Don't stress about following trends and celebrities.
What is your advice to aspiring fashion designers?
Be passionate about what you do... You must eat, sleep, breathe, dream and love your work with an intensity that cannot accommodate failure. Strong technical knowledge, ability to reinvent oneself each season, skills to overcome hurdles, ability to take feedback in your stride, creative mindset, grit, willpower and resilience are the attributes you need to succeed in this business. The fashion industry is volatile, cruel, competitive, pacy and ever-evolving. It is important to be humble and learn to accept success with the same grace as failure.