To the naked eye she looks like a regular millennial at her peak but indulge her in a conversation and she is a burst of energy to reckon with. Sporting an infectious smile and an animated sparkle, she discusses at length- everything from the ethos of her jewellery label ‘Valliyan’ to her Instagram obsessions. She might be an artistic powerhouse but her struggles to strike a balance between work and leisure makes her that much more relatable- meet Nitya Arora!
Tell us about the inception of your brand and your inspirations
I always knew from a very young age that I wanted to do something with art and design. I was always an artist, always winning all the drawing competitions. I was the Picasso of the class always. I wanted to be an architect and an interior designer, I loved homes, I Ioved spaces. My first internship was with Ashiesh Shah, the architect, when I was 16. I was very sure about what I wanted to do when I was young and jewellery just happened along the way. I spend a lot of time designing each piece on my own. I don’t have a design team at all. I do all the design myself since ten years because I love the process. I love being involved in it. It’s my work and my aesthetic. I don’t think anyone else can get that. Its unique to me and my vision. So I spend a lot of time playing with the materials, textures, colours and really taping into my subconscious mind that’s constantly absorbing things from when I travel, when I see things I like or dislike or what my current favourite colour is or what my current favourite city, place or artist is.
You studied apparel from Parsons but specialized in Jewellery, how did that happen?
As I said, I started with architecture and design. I wanted to study it, but in India, you require to have math as your subject in the 12th grade. I had a choice between art, math and literature so I chose fine art of course. It was always my first love and I knew I wouldn’t have to study at all for it. So, I would have to repeat a year to pursue architecture which I refused to. I just wanted to go abroad, and I wanted to go to Parsons but I was quite late on everything. I just decided to study BMM instead in Jai Hind which was in the next lane from me. My parents wanted me to do something promising and concrete, instead of fashion. I thought I’ll do Jai Hind for a year and then go abroad but I got sucked into work.
I first worked with a jewellery designer from New York. I worked with Kunal Rawal, a men’s fashion label. I was doing everything creative from graphics to styling. Three years later I finally went to Parsons. In the meantime, my creative juices were flowing. I created a small costume jewellery line because I wanted to buy and wear accessories that were not available anywhere.
I did brass-cut and laser-cut acrylic pieces and mixed them with small Polki and Kundan. Obviously now it’s everywhere but back then costume jewellery wasn’t a concept- people were not into it, there was no industry. I would gather all the pieces from vintage stores, buy random things like beads from the market and put it all together. I then took it to Bombay Electric which was my favourite store back then- the first of its kind in this country. Priya (Kishore) loved the pieces and she kept them. A week later I get a call saying that we’re selling out, we need more! I really didn’t expect that. I started making more and more. It just didn’t stop after that.
I did my first show at Lakmé Fashion Week in Spring-Summer 2009. Vogue and Grazia had just come in the country and this whole fashion revolution was taking place. Stylists were going crazy because it was so refreshing for them to see such exciting modern costume jewellery in the country. I remember Anaita (Shroff Adajania) wore this laser-cut star, a necklace of mine with a Nachiket Barve outfit to the finale of LFW that season and it was such a highlight for me!
Ensemble was the second store we started retailing at. Slowly stores from other cities started coming and it was a proper business. It was then that my parents saw that fashion is not for failures, it is a decent career option. That year I was off to New York. While I was there I was still running the business, I designed many pieces and gave them out.
In 2010, Aisha, Sonam (Kapoor Ahuja)’s most fashion-forward film in Bollywood, I remember Pernia (Qureshi) was styling it along with Rhea (Kapoor). Tanya (Ghavri) was an assistant on that. She had just started assisting Rhea and that was Pernia’s first styling project. I got a call from them that they loved my jewellery and they wanted to use it for Aisha. I knew Rhea and Sonam from before, so it was a no brainer. I just took a whole suitcase to Rhea’s office and she said, ‘Can we keep it all?’ And so, they ended up traveling with this whole suitcase of jewellery.
I graduated Parsons in 2011, by that time the whole luxury fashion segment had grown so much. There were so many new players in the market. When I started, there was just me and Suhani Pittie and we’re both very different. I had studied apparel and I definitely wanted to do apparel, but I realized that I had an established name, people knew me and I had a great network, so, I just stuck to making jewellery.
How do you combat competition?
It used to bother me that I had all the original ideas and I worked so hard on them and people would just copy them. They still do that. Go to the wholesale market and you will see Valliyan copies by the dozen. This whole new generation of exhibitionism- girls who go buy jewellery from wholesalers which are copies. There were a lot of designer stores that were supporting copies. They were selling my original designs and my copies next to it! So that was quite disappointing. That’s the unorganised side of Indian fashion. There’s no ethics! But it’s been ten years now! I don’t even bat an eyelid anymore! Now we have Diet Sabya!
Who do you think Diet Sabya is?
I think it’s a him and a her. I think they’re awesome. They’re really doing great service to a lot of hard work and originality. Honestly, what are they getting out of it? Only someone who is extremely passionate about fashion or design can do this or would do this. Its high time because magazines who are supposed to be calling out people aren’t doing it. They have their own agendas and I don’t really blame them because everyone must survive.
How does your brand contribute to sustainability?
I’m very big on saving trees, so we had done a small campaign in the past where we would plant a tree in the name of everyone who bought a necklace from us. We’ve also done an organic collection that’s completely brass and cane, everything handwoven and biodegradable, nothing dyed. All our jewellery is copper and brass based. Copper is the oldest metal known to mankind. In fact it is supposed to have some really good properties. We have Bengali karigars, the same people who do gold jewellery. They are fourth generation babus and patwas. We are keeping artisanal handmade crafts alive. I think the human emotion and human aspect really shines through our jewellery. You can very easily tell the difference. Imagine if your food was made by a machine and not by a person. It will taste different. It won’t nourish you. Our jewellery is really nourishing to the soul, I would say.
What’s your take on inclusivity in fashion?
I think it’s my artistic mind, I have never really thought or felt otherwise. When you say inclusive, what is inclusive? If one can find everything from a pen cap to a plastic bag beautiful, these are people! I was raised like that. I was a completely free human being, I could play all day if I wanted and I did! All the kids in the building would be studying so I would play with the maid’s children. I think I was raised with so much freedom of thought that it never occurred to me that this person is dark or rich or poor. My home has always been a warm and welcoming place. It was just a very open, human, warm, rustic and loving upbringing so when someone says inclusive, I’m like, wait! Are they not included?
I’m appalled when I hear stories about gay men being treated badly, or people being treated badly, because of their sexuality or their colour or their race. The lack of respect is the biggest plague in our society. I think what really makes people superior to others is the way they treat people, the way they lead their lives, the quality of their lives. How successful you are and how you got there. Did you get there putting people down or did you get there by being honest? That’s very important!
A little bit about discovering your personal style
I think my personal style has been influenced largely by what I saw around me growing up- Bombay and Art-Deco. I was born and raised in South Bombay, around Marine Drive so just all the Art-Deco buildings and the interiors of my house. Plus my grandmother was extremely stylish and I’ve inherited a lot of her clothes. Till today those designs are so relevant. I think they’re extremely precious because they’re very rare. It’s rare to come across such beautiful design and intricate work. I admired the way she carried herself and put herself together, very refined taste. I think I get it from her.
A constant is my grandmother. Princess Diana, Freida Kahlo, Iris Apfel, Cher, Madonna, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, Natasha Poonawala. Parmeshwar Godrej had real style. Maharani Gayatri Devi, Sheikha Mozah, David Bowie and Prince.
What do you do on your free days?
Before my store at Kala Ghoda closed, till January this year I had no time to breathe. I put on a lot of weight. I think it was the best decision to shut the store after five years because now I feel like I am living my life again, it’s not just passing me by. I do yoga twice a week, I really enjoy my workouts now. I spend a lot of time with my parents, I’m the only child. I do a lot of reading. Sometimes I get sucked into the world of Instagram and it’s a blackhole. I love going to the Bombay gym and swimming with my friends. Eating homecooked food. Living my life to the full!
Who are you stalking on Instagram right now?
Kelly Wearstler, I stalk the Kardashians like crazy! Cardi B, Taimur Ali Khan, Mallika Dua. My friend Sanjana Chauhan who’s a news reporter, she’s hilarious, her sense of humour is very dark, I really enjoy it. Of course Diet Sabya- it goes without saying. Trend land! Ignasi Monreal, the artist who has done all the Gucci campaigns.
You are looking forward to?
I’m really looking forward to being on Nykaa Fashion!
Follow @NykaaFashion on Instagram for more!
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