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“Fashion has gone through a phase when everyone thought it was the easy road to being rich and successful; sadly, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. It is neither a short cut to fame, nor wealth or success”
One of India’s most respected couturiers, Payal Jain has a career spanning almost three decades in the fashion industry. Her label is synonymous with classic and timeless ensembles, integrating heritage fabrics and craftsmanship with a modern interpretation. With a passion for sustainability and mother nature, her creations reflect these priorities as she uses natural yarns, handloom textiles, vegetable dyes along with sustainable work ethics and practices. A few years ago, Payal launched her first book on fashion studies. Specifically designed for Class XI CBSE students, the book brings together her education and years of experience in the field. An active member of the Board of Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) Payal is a keen promoter of Indian crafts, textiles, young fashion designers to the world. She graciously took some time out to answer a few questions for our readers.
Q1. What inspired you to take up fashion design? Was there any one moment when you decided that this was what you wanted to do?
I was born in the historic city of Delhi and had a childhood steeped in poetry, painting, music and dance, with parents who were passionate about the arts! I attended every exhibition in town and heard all live concerts that allowed children in the audience. I learnt Hindustani classical music, Indian Odissi dance, ceramics, drawing and painting, and took figure drawing and still life classes. My sense of proportion, aesthetics and design all evolved from here, growing into a passion for art and architecture, which has continued to influence my design aesthetics. This passion eventually grew into my professional pursuit of fashion; and many of my collections over the last two decades have taken inspiration from art or works of great artists.
I always knew I would be a part of the creative fields. Fashion designing encompasses all the special aspects of creative arts, with a touch of realism, and I believe it was the perfect choice for me, one that I have grown to love and appreciate more with each passing day.
Though I was keen on pursuing architecture, one day a close friend of the family proposed Fashion Design as a career option, and I leapt at the idea! Since my parents weren’t ready to send me away just yet, as I was only 16 at that time, I decided to pursue a degree in Business at Delhi University. I went to Jesus and Mary College for my bachelor’s in commerce, to learn the basics of economics and finance, which would help in my future in the business of fashion.
Meanwhile, I began exploring a world totally alien to me, and worked over the summer at a garment export unit, to learn the basics of the profession. I also tried my hand at designing and sewing garments, when I knew nothing about either, taking all the help I could get from family and friends. I bought fabrics, trims, buttons, zippers, etc., and put together a small line of amateur garments. My parents invited some friends to see the exhibit, and possibly out of kindness, they bought everything I had made. I was over the moon! Once I had discovered my love for fashion and textiles; and there was no looking back.
“Fashion designing encompasses all the special aspects of creative arts, with a touch of realism, and I believe it was the perfect choice for me, one that I have grown to love and appreciate more with each passing day”
Q2. Fashion design is a popular career choice, what can make one stand out in this field of work?
Fashion has gone through a phase when everyone thought it was the easy road to being rich and successful; sadly, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. It is neither a short cut to fame, nor wealth or success. Fashion design as a career choice comes with a lifelong commitment to follow your heart, and be willing to work 24/7, irrespective of rain or sun, time or tide. It is a vocation which takes over your whole life and leaves room for much else, you really are as good as your last season and there are no guarantees of success, no matter how many years of blood and sweat you have put in. I believe all feedback – good or bad – helps in one’s personal and professional growth, there is always room for improvement for each of us, and change is growth.
Q3. Please tell our readers a bit about ‘Corporate Design’ and what it entails. How did you venture into corporate design, and what do you enjoy the most about this work?
Fashion and corporate design are two completely different mediums of expression; one is about weaving a strong narrative and creating impact on the ramp by presenting a collection which would appeal to a large segment of audience across the world. The other is about interpreting a destination in terms of textile and fashion, encompassing a wide and varied audience, keeping a strong balance between aesthetic, functionality and longevity of design and product.
My team and I have been working with the hospitality and corporate sector for over two decades. Our first corporate design project was The Leela Goa in 1995. Since then, there has been no looking back and we have designed the uniform philosophy for over 150 hotels, airports, hospitals and corporate clients. This is a large part of the business, and one that requires as much passion and energy as the high fashion label. The design philosophy for the corporate world needs to be practical, versatile, durable, cost-effective and universal for all nationalities, ethnicities, body types and sizes. Also, each client has its unique identity and brand philosophy, which must come across as the first impression. The people and their attire are a crucial part of this brand image. Over the years, we have worked with several prestigious Hotel chains in India and around the globe like the Four Seasons, Aman, Hyatt International Hotels, Starwood group of Hotels, Alila Hotels, Waldorf Astoria, The Oberoi Hotels and Resorts, Taj group of Hotels, Leela Group, and many more. We have also designed corporate looks for GMR Delhi International Airport, GMR Hyderabad International Airport, Maldives International Airport, PVR Director’s Cut cinemas, Max Healthcare, Doha Hospital, DLF Aralias, etc.
Uniforms are the first point of contact and the most important aspect of guest interaction. The soul of a resort or city hotel lies in its people, and their appearance, confidence, motivation and performance are largely dependent on how they feel about themselves. If the staff is happy, content and well-groomed, they will convey this feeling of satisfaction to the guests in every interaction!
“The soul of a resort or city hotel lies in its people, and their appearance, confidence, motivation and performance are largely dependent on how they feel about themselves”
Q4. What do you see as a key factor for one to succeed in the world of fashion design?
Commitment, perseverance, hard work and a single-minded passion!
The single ‘Mantra’ for success is passion and love for your work – to eat, sleep, breathe, dream and love what you do, with an intensity that cannot accommodate failure! There is no short cut to hard work or success… it’s a long and arduous journey and one that makes all hardships worthwhile, if you have faith in yourself and are willing to give it undivided passion, integrity and commitment. Strong technical knowledge, the ability to reinvent oneself each season, the ability to take all feedback – positive and negative in your stride, faith and positivity, will power and resilience are attributes that will help you survive and succeed in the fashion business.
The fashion industry is volatile, cruel, competitive, and ever evolving. It’s a long and tough road, but that moment when you see your inspiration translated into a magnificent display of color, form, texture, sound and light, is worth all the struggle and heartbreak.
Q5. What activities would you encourage for young people with a creative bent of mind, which would help them build skills needed for designing?
Design encompasses various facets of life, such as fashion, lifestyle, home furnishing, textiles, products, interiors, art, music, cuisine or travel. For a person with a creative bent of mind, 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. The inspiration that begins with a single idea can translate into any or all mediums, spaces and disciplines to create a complete story. Basic drawing, painting and other related skills are a must have to take a thought and convert it into a physical garment, textile, furniture, home or product. In fashion, one must have sketching, illustration, pattern making, draping and grading skills. I believe there are two important aspects of Design, the first is the ‘ART’, and the second is the ‘SCIENCE’. The Art may be something you feel you intrinsically possess or are blessed with, but the Science is what you need to be taught by professionals, and must work to refine over time. No one is born with technical know-how or skills, they need to be learnt with commitment, intention, effort and perseverance.
“The single ‘Mantra’ for success is passion and love for your work – to eat, sleep, breathe, dream and love what you do, with an intensity that cannot accommodate failure!”
Q6. Who are your personal favourite designers (in India and internationally as well)?
I tend to be a ‘Purist’ by nature, and my love for classical, minimalistic and understated design remains clearly visible in all my work. I continue to go back for inspiration to the Great Master Couturiers, who have written the script for today’s fashion language.
My all-time favorite, Else Shiaparelli (1890-1973) was a brilliant Italian Couturiere, known for her originality and iconoclastic bravado, who was also the biggest rival of Coco Chanel. Another iconic Master of Couture was Paul Poiret (1879-1944), a French Master of Couture, known in the US as ‘The King of Fashion’. He effortlessly mixed oriental influences, vivid color coordinates, artistically blending culture and history, also being the first to expand into interior decoration and fragrances under his brand.
In modern times, I greatly admire Yves Saint Laurent or YSL (1961- 2008), one of the most celebrated and influential designers of the 20th Century. He began his career in the 1960s and gave credibility to ‘ready-to-wear’, so it became acceptable in the most elite circles of Paris, as well as across all social strata, taking the world by storm, and finally becoming what it is today. His prime focus was comfort, elegance and practicality for a woman – a concept very alien back then, and popularized ‘trousers’ for women on all occasions, something we take for granted today.
Among current designers and closer to home, I am a huge fan of Ritu Kumar, for being the first Indian designer to celebrate Indian textile and craft, taking it to Indians across the world; and for creating awareness about the richness of our vast heritage, making it affordable for all.
“No one is born with technical know-how or skills, they need to be learnt with commitment, intention, effort and perseverance”
Q7. What do you see as important aspects in the future of fashion design? Any changes that you can foresee coming up in the next couple of decades?
In terms of the Indian fashion scene, I feel there will be an inevitable shift towards more meaningful, ethical, indigenous and timeless fashion. The ’Back to Roots’ phenomenon has slowly been gathering steam over the past few years and many designers are moving towards it. Our strength lies in our vast heritage of textiles, embroideries and crafts, not aping the west or using imported fabrics. We have to support our own Karigaars, weavers and craft people to build a strong ecosystem in the industry. Use of natural yarns, organic textiles, natural dyes, recyclable trims and accessories have to be a conscious choice of the design community, driving change in the way the consumer thinks about fashion. We all need to do our bit for the textile and craft community of India and create awareness about the damage done to our environment. We need end-to-end sustainable practices and processes to be implemented across the Garment and Textile industry in our country. Fashion, as we have come to know it over the past decades stands to be ‘Reset and Reinvented’ forever. It is time for us to reinvent our fashion philosophy and support sustainability in all our endeavors, more ease, comfort, versatility, ease of maintenance will be big driving factors in fashion collections.
“I tend to be a ‘Purist’ by nature, and my love for classical, minimalistic and understated design remains clearly visible in all my work”
- The Q&A was originally published in Career Ahead October 2021 issue.
Career Ahead, the flagship handle of Career Ahead Magazine, is dedicated to molding the next generation of professionals and entrepreneurs. Our mission is to educate and inspire today's ambitious minds to become the icons of tomorrow. As the ultimate tool and resource, we cater to young students, budding entrepreneurs, and innovative startups, providing them with the knowledge and inspiration needed to navigate their paths to success. Through in-depth articles, insightful analysis, and inspiring stories, Career Ahead empowers its readers to forge their futures in the ever-evolving world of work and enterprise.