Fashion icon Tarun Tahiliani has attained new heights in apparel and jewellery design, and has participated in the biggest shows in some of the world’s trendiest cities, from Milan to Mumbai. He speaks to Swati Singh about his latest collection, his design philosophy and his signature style.
Q. What inspired you to embark on a career in the world of fashion?
A. We first came up with an idea—at the behest of my wife, Sal Tahiliani—to start a store in an empty warehouse in South Bombay, which would promote Indian design and talent and the wonderful products that we saw manufactured in India and available around the world but were not available in the Indian market. I began first as a retailer, but always had a penchant for sketching and wanted to create my own designs, and so I slowly started this process with a small unit that manufactured for the West, and continued doing this for a few years. Then I decided that I had to go and study in order to understand technically how to handle a fabric, which would then become the basis of our structured drapes in years to come.
Q. Fashion is constantly evolving. How does Tarun Tahiliani set new trends through his designs?
A. Indian fashion has never been about trends, but I suppose everyone has a whole set of magazines that they refer to, or keep picking up on different trends. But now the world does not work to one trend. Athleticism has changed the way people dress, and so people who are very fit, want to wear nicely-tailored shaped clothes. They want to show their bodies, and I don’t mean that in any vulgar way. But just because they work out, they like things that are tailored well for their bodies. Then, there is an anti-fit trend. There are interesting ways and trends to reinvent the saris and handloom. However, there is definitely a trend to move towards lightness in Indian clothes, because people these days want to be at ease at functions and do not want to be weighed down with a 20kg drag to pull through. I think in a country like ours, which is multilingual, which has so many different economic strata and cultural strata, there is never any one trend.
Q. How would you define your design philosophy?
A. TheTarunTahiliani brand has set out to create the ultimate “India Modern”: a brand with a view in the present moment, but, ultimately much steeped in the Indian traditions of draped form and the techniques that millions of Indian craftspeople imbibe with l The silhouettes combine Western notions of cut, construct and finish, but using Indian heritage and craftsmanship. Continuing innovations in the draped form, which a signature for us, we endeavour to present collections that are a distillation of our design sensibility and yet are competitively priced to stand on their own anywhere in the world—whether it is the style or price or fit. “All that we were and more…” This, then, is the guiding philosophy of the Tarun Tahiliani studio.
Q. Tell us about your collection that was showcased recently at the Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai.
A. For some time now, I have been thinking about fashion’s role, especially in evening and bridal wear, and how it has failed the modern Indian bride because the clothes are heavy, stiff, uncomfortable and never to be looked at or worn again. Since our Couture 2017 collection, we set out to create clothes that let women be comfortable and really have fun while still being as glamorous as they felt inside. All in keeping with the global trend of movement and lightness, and true equality for women.
The collection that I just presented at the recently held Lakmé Fashion Week is our first Ready-To-Wear collection of the season, “Tarakini”. It takes inspiration from the constellations of the Milky Way and their lightness of non-pattern and abstraction, to render a gossamer of floating elegance. This is the principle of our Spring/Summer 2018 collection. And from the day-wear trench coats in soft khadi, to the wonderful evening sparkly “Tarakanna-esque” kurtas, lehengas and more, dotted with beautiful Indian handcraft and tiny Swarovski crystals winking at you. This is the new way forward.
Q. What was the idea behind this collection?
A. The core inspiration of the Spring/Summer 2018 collection , “Tarakini”, were the celestial bodies and constellations of stars, which twinkle in a wide array of colours and glitters on the garments. As effortless elegance unravels in surreptitious layers of fluid shapes, celestial hues and sensual draperies, quintessential Tarun Tahilianidesign values were given a cosmic spin this season.
Q. What are your views on the contemporary Indian fashion scene?
A. I think the contemporary Indian fashion scene has a lot going on and is finally becoming distinguished. Most Indian designers face an issue of their designs being plagiarised and actually, having to reach out because we still tend to be still quite elitist and India is a country of the masses, where millions of people stay below the poverty line, which is very low. There is also an upcoming middle class that has other priorities besides fashion, and most Indian designers are catering to a completely different group of people who are very well off.
However, I do think there are really interesting ready-to-wear costumes now, and while there is a very big demand for gowns in the market, I am not particularly interested in them because I find it derivative. There is a tremendous and interesting fusion happening in the Indian market which I think is absolutely amazing and is really defining modern India.
Q. Your take on the Indian handloom industry?
A. My take on the Indian handloom industry is that it is culturally very rich. I see beautiful, beautiful heritage in the contemporary handloom done by houses in Kolkata and many other designers all over the country. I love the idea of a linen sari. I love the idea of many new developments and the colours at the moment are exquisite. I just came back from a wedding in Jodhpur where I saw the most exquisite Kanjeevarams. So clearly, while the sarimight be on a decline, the handloom industry, at least for special occasions, is thriving.
Q. Tell us about your “Kumbhback” collection, which is being talked about across the world. How did it come about?
A. The “Kumbhback” was a very exciting collection. Before starting to work on this collection, I felt that the studio for a while had kind of lost its direction, it was in some kind of muddy waters, having done too much bridal. The “Khumbhback” collection—a play on the word “Kumbh”, where I had just been at the time—really revitalised my creative juices. There must have been about a million people [at the Kumbh Mela] if not more, and the sadhus who have always inspired me, were replicated in my designs.
I think every Indian sadhu once in their life goes for the Kumbh Mela. It is really their Holy Grail and the level of creativity that I saw there was absolutely mind boggling—with just the red blocks, the waist coats, the fabrics, the draping of shawls, lungis, dhotis, and very extreme styling, which I thought at that time belonged on the Dior ramp.
It revitalised my creative juices because there, despite so little terms of resource and textile, not one person looked like the other, and each in fact looked very unique. And surely, with all that we had at our disposal, our clothes should allow consumers to express their identity. That really was the beginning of our major comeback, or “Kumbhback”. I hope to go back to the Kumbh next year.
Q. This is the first time you are collaborating with the jewellery brand Confluence. Tell us about that?
A. Our collection for Confluence was inspired by a lot of Indian baalis in traditional forms, and maang tikkas that we wanted to have easier versions of. So what we decided to do was to take easy, wearable pieces and fashion them out of wonderful Swarovski crystals. We wanted to do a beautiful blend of East and West, done with the finest crystals in the world, and this was the starting point of the collection. All the principles that we use in design, have found their way into this whimsical collection of asymmetrical pieces.
Q. How is jewellery design different from designing apparel?
A. My design process starts with the function of a space. The overarching TarunTahiliani ideology of “India Modern” is considered when designing any product, whether clothes, carpets or jewellery. The underlying principles are the same—we look at the fall, fit and feel of the jewellery. We decided what the themes were and what we wanted to put together—a collection that represents India in a cool and funky way. Designing jewellery is just an extension of my design philosophy. But the runway is my first love and designing jewellery or any other product is an extension of that expression.
Q. Would you be open to experimenting with fashion genres other than that of luxury design?
A. I am always open to experimenting with genres other than luxury design. We often work on simple fabrics, like Malkha, which is a mix of khadi and malmal. However, it is how we treat the fabrics that invariably makes them luxurious. To me, the definition of luxury is not putting on Rs 20,000 per metre cashmere or brocade. It is the labour and time that were put into finishing these clothes impeccably. The carpets we did in collaboration with Obeetee were luxurious. But we have also done a fun line with watches in the past. I am always open to things that have great utility while not being super expensive.
Q. Which collection among all your designs are you most proud of, and why?
A. It is hard to say which of my designs I am most proud of. I am always proud of things that I feel interpret India in a modern way because I feel that is the only way will keep Indian fashion relevant—and current, cool and alive. While there is a definite market that we cater to for bridal wear, it is not enough to do costumes of “Royal India” into bridal. Since we did our show in Milan, as a brand we have always aimed to embody the philosophy of “India Modern”—in cool kurtis, dhoti pants, wraps, drapes, structured draping, to keep the ensembles hip and cool, and suited to the modern-day life. Among the collections that stand out for me in this regard are the Kumbh and the Rabari collections, and everything that drapes and twists around the body in a modern way.
Q. What are some of the new designs you are currently working on?
A. Currently, I am working on, rather incubating, the next bridal and couture collections, which will be in July. This is super important for me because we have worked out a whole lot of new techniques, which will be explored, giving Indian bridal and couture a lightness that is yet to be seen. Unfortunately, a lot of clothes so far have been so heavy and are like material costumes, which women cannot move in.