Payal’s journey in the fascinating world of couture has a humble beginning from the by lanes of Delhi, where she grew up in a childhood steeped profusely in art, culture, and music. The years of intensive hard work cumulated when she graduated summa-cum-laude in 1993 from Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, California and returned home to start a career in fashion. Today Payal Jain is one of the leading designers in India. Her ensembles have found a market all over the world as she sells from some of the best stores across India, U.S.A., Europe, U.A.E and South East Asia.
Introduce yourself to our readers. Please tell us about your family back- ground?
I have had a childhood steeped in painting, sculpture, and music, with parents who were passionate about the arts! My mom painted and did ceramics before my birth but, switched completely to Indian classical music and took to playing the sitar once I was born. My dad is a consulting engineer by profession yet, possess a strong inclination towards poetry, art, and classical music….he played the flute during my childhood days. I went for every art exhibition in town and every musical concert that happened. By the age of eight, I had heard most of the Indian Classical Maestros perform live and also attended over a few hundred painting, sculpture, and ceramic exhibitions. I learned classical Hindustani Music, Odissi Dance, tabla, drawing and painting through my childhood years and spent a lot of time absorbing various Art forms….all of which have strongly influenced my design sensibility. My love for art began early and has grown into my professional pursuit of Fashion as a carrier. I took serious figure drawing and still life classes at Triveni Kala Sangam when I was ten years old. My sense of proportion, aesthetics, and design all evolved from this point onwards, growing to a passion for Art and Architecture. I was very keen on pursuing architecture as my profession when Fashion design was suggested as a career by a close friend of my father’s. Once I discovered my love for textiles and crafts, there was never any looking back. Most of my collections over the years speak of art forms, artists, music, and architecture as inspirations. They continue to inspire my designs and my design ethos is based on Art and design in totality!
Where did you go for your schooling? What were your aspirations when you were in school?
I studied in Modern School, VasantVihar, New Delhi and was a fairly good academic student. I always loved art, but in school days I wanted to be an architect and hence pursued Science as my major subjects. I had opted for Mechanical drawing with Science in my 11th and 12th grade.
From where did you complete your bachelors?
I went to Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University for my Bachelors in Commerce (Honors) after school, as I was sure I wanted to work for myself and needed to understand the basics of finance. Since I had Science in school, I was not exposed to Commerce or Economics at all. Also, my parents weren’t ready to send me off to the US just yet, as I was only 16 at that time. During my College years, I pursued my love for Fashion and worked the first summer vacation at an export factory, to try and get some understanding of the real business. I also started exploring Fashion colleges in the US, but there was no Internet in those days and all correspondence happened through post and letters. I shortlisted about 5-6 Fashion programs that interested me and travelled with my father to visit the campuses during my second summer break. Meanwhile, I decided to also try my hand at physically making some outfits. Of course, I didn’t know how to stitch at that time, so I hired a tailor and bought fabrics, trims, buttons, zippers, etc. to put together a small line of outfits. My parents were kind enough to invite their friends to see these and maybe just to encourage me, their friends bought everything. I was over the moon and there was no looking back!! I narrowed down my list of Colleges/programs that interested me most and began to work on building my portfolio. Also, began a series of telephonic interviews with counselors at prospective colleges. After a long and grueling series of telephonic and physical interviews, I finally got admission in FIDM, San Francisco and left for the US as soon as I finished my Bachelors degree at JMC.
Why did you not go for conventional courses like B-Tech or Medical? Which factors do you believe shaped your decision to join Fashion Designing/Technology College?
Raised amidst art, culture, and music, I always knew I would be a part of the creative fields. Fashion designing encompasses all the aspects of creative arts and I believe, was destined to be a fashion designer.
What was your branch of study in college, was it Fashion Designing or Fashion Technology?
My course was a combination of Fashion Design and Technology. I believe there are aspects of both ‘Art’ and ‘Science’ to Fashion. The ‘Art’ is something that is intrinsic to your personality and your creativity stems from it naturally. It only needs direction, honing and nurturing to bring out your expression. You cannot teach someone to be creative; you can only teach them various mediums of expressing that creativity! The ‘Science’ on the other hand needs to be taught….this includes pattern making, grading, draping, sewing etc. No one is born with these skills; they need to be taught with precision, perfection, and eye to detail. My course was comprehensive and taught me the artistic expression as well as the science of Fashion while giving me an introduction to a whole new world of art-appreciation. It was a very tough course and the teachers most demanding…we had to be precise to the 1/16thand 1/32nd of an inch, else marks were deducted. The commitment to perfection was paramount in our college and its importance has stayed close to me, through my years of working.
Could you tell about your internship experiences? What sort of internships did you prefer and what learning experiences did you gain from it?
During my college years, I worked for a French couturier, a Spanish kids- wear designer and a lingerie store in downtown San Francisco. In those days, people on student visas couldn’t work in the US and get paid for it, so I work on weekends for no pay…today I realize, that experience was worth more than any amount of money.
I started my first job at the Spanish kids-wear designer and soon realized that no one spoke a word of English in the entire studio. If I wished to continue, I would have to learn Spanish. It was a challenge at first and something I started enjoying very much after some time. I did everything from picking up the pins to making coffee for everyone to cleaning tables, selecting trims and putting together mood boards…..every single moment spent proved to be a source of learning later in life. The people were friendly, nice and willing to let me try new things…after six months when I left, it was like leaving behind a family.
The French couturier I worked for was a comparatively small set up. She only had two assistants and I was the trainee. She made every pattern with her own hands and draped each outfit on the dummy herself. We assisted her in whatever work she gave, but the sheer love, pain, and effort she put into each of her ensembles was something I will never forget. From her, I learned to create with love, passion, sincerity, and integrity…giving the lease of life to each one of my creations!!
My short stint at Victoria’s Secret boutique, selling on the shop floor was quite eventful too. The one thing I clearly realized was that I was better off behind the drawing board and in the design studio, rather than being a marketing or sales person, as that didn’t come to me naturally.
Once I started my own label, these were all very valuable lessons for me, ones that shaped my future in the business.
What is your area of specialization?
I have always married the East and West in my designs….”I believe my designs have a Western body and an Indian soul.” This philosophy remains evident in all my work and has grown with time…my creations are subtle, minimalistic and strongly Indian at heart. They appeal to the global citizen and speak a contemporary language. This ethos spills into all my designs, be it accessories, interiors, spaces, lifestyle products or home furnishings. I follow a minimalistic and simple approach to design, I have always believed, ‘Less is more!’ The timeless and simple designs tread through decades and remain evergreen and always amongst our favorite possessions. Most of us cherish hand-me-downs from our parents and continue to regard them with more value over the years, than the most expensive brands in the world. When it comes to design, I always tend to follow an understated and minimalistic approach.
Fashion for me has always been about my love for Textile. I enjoy creating my fabrics from scratch, be it weaving special natural yarns, screen or hand block printing, tie-dye techniques, reinventing age-old embroideries or reinterpreting traditional techniques in today’s context. The most incredible part of designing a collection is the process of watching it’s evolution from a simple pencil sketch and thought in my head to the development of the fabrics, embroideries, surface treatments, muslin toils, patterns, drapes and finally, the finished garment! The entire journey spans anywhere from ten to twenty-four months and is a roller coaster ride with every step of the way being an exciting adventure. The final outcome is most gratifying and satisfying…makes every hurdle along the way more than worthwhile!!
What were your areas of interest during your graduation?
My thoughts on Fashion and my design line: “Fashion to me 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 wine you like to serve, the choice of art you collect and also the car you drive. It is all your unique and personal sense of style and fashion!!
Design encompasses various facets of life, such as fashion, lifestyle, home furnishing, textiles, products, interiors, art, music, cuisine or travel. For a designer or 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 roll of paper. One medium flows seamlessly into another when I am inspired and colours simply spill over into all spaces around me. Fashion remains my first love but, over the years, I have tried my hands at designing interiors, home furnishings, products, lifestyle and corporate uniforms. The inspiration for one season simply translates into various mediums, spaces, and disciplines to create a complete storyboard.
My fashion label is an extension of my personality, as is the case for any artist and their expression through every creative medium. 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 Embroiders’ ‘Adda’. It takes a lot of time, patience, love and passion to wait and watch each collection slowly take shape…the process can take anywhere from one month to twenty-four months and every step of the way is magical and full of gratification. The final result, however, may never be visible to an onlooker but the pleasure of creating it from a simple thought is absolutely unparalleled. The first inspiration for a collection can take root with a beautiful flower blooming, a mesmerizing sunrise, travel to an exotic destination, a great book, a historical period or character, an artist’s work or simply an inspired frame of mind. The journey is about how this thought is translated into form, shape, colour and texture…the mediums may vary!
The handwriting of an artist usually remains constant and I feel the biggest compliment to any artist is the recall and recognition of a patron of his / her work, without being told. There can be a no bigger compliment for a designer than the fact that their creation gets recognized, without having to look at the label. This is when their signature style has come of age and become unique init’s identity.
Ever since I started my career, it has been my most important goal to uphold our heritage. My entire team works with experts and clusters across the country to drive this tradition forward. However, it may not be possible for one single design house to change the landscape. It is my sincere hope that all Indian designers work with crafts in some way to create a strong revival drive. We are blessed to be Indians and have an immense heritage at our disposal. It would be a shame not to utilize this in our creations.
Did you ever feel that you could not get enough time to develop yourself in terms design concept because of assignment load of the college?
Never!! If there was no time, I made it by skipping sleep…I don’t believe in being inauthentic to a task I decide to take on. Integrity is paramount in a creative profession and complete honesty to one’s own soul is necessary.
How important is it to pursue higher studies in fashion? Did you go for masters?
I believe it is absolutely imperative to have formal education in the field of Fashion Design. As I mentioned above, it is very important to be taught the ‘Science’ of Fashion, even if the ‘Art’ comes naturally to you. I went to fashion school post my undergraduate degree and my FIDM degree was equivalent to a Masters degree for all practical purposes, as we studied the subjects in great depth and breadth. However, if in the future I can spare the time, I would love to go back to college to study more Art and Design.
Do you feel that your college education had prepared you sufficiently for the many tasks you were required to execute during your internships and later at your job?
Fashion, in India, when I moved back was just beginning to emerge. We designers were still treated as glorified tailors and no one understood that there is 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 has been long and hard. I started my small studio in HauzKhas Village in 1993 and have never looked back…..this journey has taught me all I know today and made me the person I am today! Also, I have been very actively involved in the Fashion Design Council of India over the last decade and have seen this evolution first hand. Today, my creations sell across the globe and I have had the privilege of dressing extremely discerning and successful women, who continue to be my inspiration.
How much grades matter in getting a good job?
I did graduate with a perfect score of 4.0 GPA (Summa Cum Laude) and at that time felt like it was my only dream to finish my degree with flying colors. Now when I look back, I feel the grades weren’t as important as the understanding of the technical courses and commitment to perfection. It is absolutely necessary for a fashion designer to be hands-on with pattern making, grading, draping, sewing, and sketching. This is the only way to translate your vision into reality. You can only see an idea from concept to completion if you know more than those working under you and manage to find solutions to all technical problems, as they arise.
A lot of people in this field dream about starting their own label but most of them is unaware of the technicality related to this. So would you like to illuminate us with the delicacies of starting one’s own label?
I believe you cannot do this business successfully without a sound technical knowledge and hands-on experience.
Starting your own label is like a shot in the dark, so what are the risk involved in starting your own venture? What are the chances of its success?
In today’s time of extreme competition, it is becoming harder and harder to start one’s own label. Even if you manage to get it off the ground, you need a lot of funds and support to set up proper infrastructure, machinery, equipment, production standards, government compliances and human resource skills to employ and keep satisfied people. Besides this, you need to be equipped to be your own marketing manager, PR person, sales rep, creative director, production manager, designer, socialite, finance manager, etc. It is a tough and challenging job and one that can only be done if there is immense passion and commitment to the job. It is a big high each day but comes with stiff competition, unfair trade practices, staff poaching, design thefts, copyright challenges and many more minuses.
The risks and many and rewards are few in the beginning, but it is a hugely gratifying and satisfying profession where everything you imagine in your wildest dreams can take shape and form in a matter of months. You can also create substantial income for many people from embroiders to tailors, weavers, craft persons….and that is the biggest gift you can possibly give back to society.
What is your advice to those who want to start their own label? When you work for yourself, your work comprises of everything from picking up the pieces to running board meetings, from new buyers to projects, new collections, presentations, shows, shop floor crisis, shipment deadlines, marketing and PR, guest lists, sponsor meetings and fashion weeks……it’s a MAD business, with a pulsating blood rush !! Once you are in it, you can never get out!
So, if you want to start your own label, be prepared to be in for the ‘long haul’ and there is absolutely no looking back!
What would be your parting message to students who want pursue a career in designing?
You must love, live, breathe, sleep and dream your work and each creation must be a part of you, which needs to be given a lease of life!! Work hard, with sincerity and integrity…there is no way that you will not succeed! There are no shortcuts to fame and success…commitment, fire, passion, patience, and resilience are the mantras for true success!
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