A Western Body With An Indian Soul

Seamlessly blending Indian recherché and craftsmanship with modern day western silhouettes, leading fashion designer Payal Jain during a conversation with Anuradha Kaul shares her story of passion, excellence, love for arts, deep-connection with the Indian roots, and her continuous efforts to give back to the society.

A designer par excellence, an artist, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, an author, and a mother of twin teenage boys, Payal Jain was influenced by art at a young age and has her world pervaded by the creative fluxes including dance, music and fine arts. She conforms to the school which believes that fashion is also an art form. It is these values that have been incorporated in Payal Jain’s unique vision, as collections are pret-a-porter or Haute couture for the modern eclectic woman, and are not exposed to the out of the box creative outings which are left to the editorial.

Along with haute couture, her work has delivered aesthetic solutions across different strata’s of the corporate world. Payal thoroughly believes in giving back to the community and has an annual show (apart from the one at FDCI’s Fashion Week), the proceedings of which go to an NGO she works closely with. Consciously and ethically, she also contributes to the weaver and artisan communities in remote parts of the country that have helped enrich her collections. She has helped generate employment in these areas by using their expertise and techniques and integrating them within her collection. She has also written a book on Fashion Science for XI standard under the CBSC curriculum, which is being prescribed by several schools across the country for fashion design students.

A self-proclaimed workaholic, Payal is hands-on involved with the production and development of her collection, from approving the fibers to the process of weaving; she spends over 12-18 months in developing each line. Payal believes that each garment has a resplendent journey, telling a unique story. Today, PEAKLIFE delves into a deep conversation with Payal Jain to know more about her own inspiring story.

Q: When did you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in fashion?

I have always been inclined towards art and was introduced to sketching at the tender age of eight. My childhood was steeped in music, dance and various art forms due to the fine influence from my parents – my mother played the sitar professionally and my father, despite spending most of his time as a highly accomplished consulting engineer, played the flute. I took still life classes at the Triveni Kala Sangam and continued to dabble in classical Odissi dance, Hindustani classical music and much more. My love for the arts slowly transformed into a passion and I decided to formally study fashion following my undergraduate studies at JMC. After completing my business studies, I went on to pursue a degree in fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, San Francisco and the rest I guess is history!

Q: After studying at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco, when did you land your first internship? What was the most valuable learning from your experiences during that phase?

I was a foreign student at FIDM and the rules in the US in those days did not allow us to get paid for internships while pursuing the degree. I was very keen on gaining hands-on experience and took on several weekend jobs through College. I worked as a design assistant at a kid wear brand (run by a Spanish designer), a design intern at a French couturier’s atelier, a sales assistant at a big lingerie brand and several other short weekend jobs through my stay there. The French couturier I worked with was a stickler for precision and detail… she draped the most decadent gowns and dresses, with painstaking care and passion. Each dress took anywhere from 3-4 weeks between draping, toile, pattern cutting, series of fittings, re-draping and final fitting on the client. Each creation was a work of art, unique in its design and created with love! It taught me the importance of precision, perfection and eye for detail; giving importance to every little element that went into creating a perfect ‘Couture’ creation!

Q: The most significant milestones that punctuate your journey as a designer? 

I came back to India with stars in my eyes and dreams bigger than my little heart could hold. I wanted to conquer the world and take my label to a global platform. My very first show with Tamana Special School humbled me and transformed my journey henceforth. Today, I sell my label in stores across the world but the joy I feel in bringing a smile to someone’s face, creating income for women who are an integral part of our craft community, sustaining weaving clusters in remote parts and raising funds for children with special needs or slum dwellers remains simply unparalleled! My journey began with love and compassion and continues with that being closest to my heart and paramount in my list of priorities. I believe it is imperative to give back to society and remain grateful for one’s blessings.

Q: How and when was the brand ‘Payal Jain’ initiated?

The fashion industry was in its nascent stages when I returned to India in the early 90s and designers were treated like glorified tailors: nobody understood the very specialized skill and education required to pursue a career in Fashion. I started my studio 25-years-ago in Hauz Khas Village, beginning my Label creating outfits with ‘A western body and an Indian soul’. However, there was a negligible appreciation for a western way of dressing even by working, career-oriented women at that time.  Everyone wanted saris or a Salwar kameez, and was willing to spend lakhs on them, but refused to pay even a few thousand rupees for a well-tailored and constructed dress suit. Such was the scenario in those days, a far cry from fashion sensibility today wherein almost every Indian woman wears jeans or pants in the big cities. Fashion has evolved beyond anyone’s imagination, and it is my absolute privilege to have been a part of this revolution! In addition to my personal involvement in the fashion industry, I am an active member of the Fashion Design Council of India over the last decade and have witnessed this revolution first hand.

To read more, grab a copy of the latest edition of the PEAKLIFE magazine.


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