Payal Jain | Uniform appeal

MINT

Payal Jain | Uniform appeal

Delhiites are familiar with designer Payal Jain’s annual winter shows, which usually centre around a New Age theme, and showcase a mix of stylish prêt and easy couture. There is recurring use of gold, ivory and red in her palette, offset by blacks. Behind this apparent seamlessness of couture and prêt is Jain’s 18-year-old work as a corporate designer, especially for the hotel industry, a parallel aspect of her enterprise. A job where each sari or scarf must look ironed 24×7 and each pin-tuck on a shirt must withstand a tough schedule. Jain has been making uniforms for luxury hotels—from sharp-suited restaurant heads to doormen who she says feel energized by her quirky use of local colour and detail. She tells us how disparate in experience and expectations fashion and corporate design are, yet how they influence each other. Edited excerpts:

How is designing hotel uniforms different from your seasonal fashion work?

Fashion requires constant change, often to make a strong statement on the ramp. Whereas corporate design demands practicality, functionality, easy care and longevity to be successful. Besides, in any hotel or resort there are diverse nationalities, skin tones, body types, cultural sensitivities and personal preferences to be kept in mind. The client’s brand ethos and image too have to come through in the staff uniforms.

How important is the cultural and regional aesthetic of a hotel in creating uniforms?

A moodboard for the uniforms of Manesar Hyatt.I spend time understanding the region’s cultural preferences, sensitivities and local textiles. For instance, The Leela in Goa is inspired by south Indian temples, specifically the famous Yali (a mythical creature in Hindu mythology) seen at the entrance of such temples. With that as inspiration, we created specially woven borders for the uniforms. On the other hand, The Leela in Bangalore is inspired by Indo-Saracenic royalty so we created a royal wardrobe with jewel colours, textiles, exotic embroideries and headgear representative of that period for everyone, from the doorman to the butler, captains, hostesses and royal club staff. Hotel teams need to feel good about what they wear and their sense of pride reflects in the body language they communicate to the guests. The challenging part is to achieve a balance of all this in uniforms.

Has any of your hospitality design experience inspired a fashion collection?

I still remember my trip to Laos, while working on resorts in Luang Prabang. I spent my time taking pictures at monasteries and exploring local flea markets. The incredible stencilled murals made by the monks on the walls of the monasteries were a designer’s delight. These, together with the brick red of the monk’s robes and the indigo renderings in the local paintings, gave me a complete storyboard for my collection. These elements inspired the uniforms of those resorts and went on to create my ramp show for the subsequent fashion week in 2010, which I called the The Solitary Monk.

How do fittings, sizes and trials work in the hotel industry?

Unlike fashion where you can drape a sack on a six-foot-tall, beautiful ramp model and she manages to make it look like a million dollars, corporate design is about real body types, mixed shapes and sizes, varying skin tones, different nationalities and hair colours. International hotel groups hire anywhere between 15-55 nationalities, all of whom need to feel comfortable and look great in their uniforms. When we were working with the Grand Hyatt in Dubai, the staff was hired from approximately 95 different countries. It was a challenge to create a colour palette and range of silhouettes that suited them all.

In any international project, made-to-measure uniforms are fitted on site during the soft opening of the property. Sometimes, we also ship standard sizes and they are fitted during trials, prior to the opening.

Do you just design the clothes or give hotel staff tips on grooming and accessorizing?

A model in a garment from ‘The Solitary Monk’ collectionWe define and style the complete look, including accessories, footwear and headgear, suggesting make-up and hair. I also specify how to add on accessories like scarves, ties, pocket squares, brooches, cufflinks, etc. For Four Seasons, Mumbai, the entire look was sharp, minimalistic and modern but it needed a touch of Indianness. We designed scarves and ties inspired by antique Jamawar shawls and throws in an ethnic palette of burgundy, ochre, saffron, jade, rust, turquoise and carbon. The scarves were held together by brooches inspired by the Nizam’s jewels. Everyone was then taught how to wear these scarves in a synchronized fashion.

What’s your favourite hotel uniform from all your designs?

I love working in the Maldives, which is a great example of cultural diversity where each island has a unique costume and cultural sensibility. For the Hyatt there, we explored the travels of Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta to the Maldives. These inspired the sarongs we created for men and women both, with funky necklines, taken from the traditional libaas, worn by Maldivian women through the centuries. Another favourite is the Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru in the Maldives for which we created a vibrant aqua and saffron palette for the day in modern, graphic prints, inspired by the hotel architect’s usage of colour. This whole look transformed into a glamorous black and beige palette for the night, keeping the same philosophy of contemporary silhouettes and indigenous details.

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