With each carefully crafted stitch on myriad of fabrics, the master of haute couture, Tarun Tahiliani has conceptualised and redefined the look of modern Indian bride. His unflinching effort has made him reinvent elegance, keeping in tune with the fashion sensibility of contemporary women at the same time. He is a witty and an adventurous person when he is not romanticizing drapes or thinking about crêpes. In this interview, he talks about his fashion journey, his beliefs and passions.
Why did you decide to switch from marketing oilfield equipment to fashion designing?
Tarun Tahiliani: I switched the whole genre, from oil to fashion! I obtained a degree in Business Management from the Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania. I came back to India and had to do something, so here I was stuck in family business of marketing oil field equipment. It seemed fine for a while but pretty soon I got bored of it. The oil business didn’t fuel my interest. My wife, Sailaja (or ‘Sal’ as she is popularly called, a former model) and I opened the first multi-designer luxury studio ‘Ensemble’ in 1987, to awaken the dormant state of Indian fashion. So it began at the time when Sal was the Vimal campaign girl, and late designer, Rohit Khosla styled her. Ensemble was born because of series of interaction between Rohit Khosla and us (Sal and I). We wanted to promote Indian designs in India. Definitely, fashion had aroused my interest.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a fashion designer?
Tarun Tahiliani: Ensemble showcased works of five designers. However, I had also started doing my sketching by then but after three years of running the studio I was frustrated. I wanted to push the limits and so I went to study designing at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. On returning to India, I started designing and I focused more on finesse of cuts and silhouettes.
Has quality taken a backseat over the years?
Tarun Tahiliani: Definitely, with an ever increasing number of fashion shows, quality has taken a backseat. There are vast numbers of fashion shows, almost every month. Actually, a phase came when there was an explosion of creativity and at that particular period, the quality did get elevated to some extent. Presently, with innumerable fashion events, plagiarism has also increased. Today, most of them (designers) are more focused on quantity than quality. There are even small designer shops in small areas of the city where people imitate and sell the leading designer brands at a very low price. Once I went to one of the small shops in and the shopkeeper very animatedly said, ‘Aao, aao Tarun Tahiliani ka naya collection dikhaenge sir.’ Even the quality of some of the leading fashion designers has gone down. However, there are some designers who have maintained their quality and have taken fashion to a higher level. It is because of them that the Indian fashion is talked about, the world over.
Are there any designers you look up to?
Tarun Tahiliani: For me, my greatest influence was Rohit Khosla. He had always been so involved since the time we opened our studio. He taught me to be more receptive to even the smallest facet in life. I remember when my first son was born, he said, ‘I am a fairy godfather’.
What are your designing sensibilities?
Tarun Tahiliani: In India, it has become a lot about the embroidery and that is fine but all the exquisite embroideries go for a toss if the particular attire has not been stitched to perfection. So, in this respect, our brand has adopted more westernized ideas and methods. We follow two steps; the first one is to design original attires and second is to ensure that the attire fits perfectly. Also, I really feel that people are sloppy in India and are overdressed on their wedding day and are heavily made-up. They don’t look themselves. When I see my mother’s wedding picture, she looked beautiful because she looked herself. I don’t believe in the ‘over the top’ ethos, I value simplicity and minimalism. I am a supporter of the idea of ‘Contemporary Luxury’ which means that we have our heritage as an influence, also our workmanship and our traditional jewellery. In the end, luxury for us is that you look yourself and be comfortable.
Do you have any personal favorite ensemble from the collections that you have designed so far?
Tarun Tahiliani: I think, ‘The Modern Mughals’ would be the most memorable one but I really don’t have any favorites. I like different attires from different ensembles, so I cannot specify. As far as an uproariously funny one is concerned, I could recall a vivid memory of designing for a Mumbai socialite, for a masquerade ball. The effect of that attire was quite hysterical. I am not sure that whether I could describe it to you because it was so embarrassing (laughs).
Describe the Tarun Tahiliani bride.
Tarun Tahiliani: The Tarun Tahiliani bride definitely won’t look overdone. The Tarun Tahiliani bride wants to look great obviously, but she also wants to have some fun. I understate with very fine work on attires but most of all, the Tarun Tahiliani bride needs to look natural.