What happens when business and design meets ? 

At times, design overrides business causing a brilliant identity but not much moolahs and at other times, business overthrows design catering to mass-fuelled needs thus losing on creative soul. 

It’s a rarity when both are in complete balance with each other, serving as the yin and yang. 

Tarun Tahiliani, a master couturier who hails the India Modern imagery, would be the perfect embodiment of this business and design balance. The designer hails from an affluent Sindhi household that held high values for education. The talented gene pool forms of his father, Admiral R H Tahiliani (Former Chief of Indian Navy), his mother, Jaswanti, who, according to her son, was the first woman engineer in Mumbai, and his investment banker-sister Tina, who once managed Ensemble, India’s first multi-designer boutique that Tahiliani founded in 1987.  

Ensemble Store
Tarun Tahiliani with Aditi Rao Hydari

Having been educated at the Doon School, Tahiliani dropped out of Delhi’s St Stephen’s College to pursue a course in economics at New York’s Vassar College and then obtained a degree in business management at Wharton Business School, only to come back to India and work in the family oil-field equipment business.

Looking at his wife Shailaja, who pursued modelling, he got inclined to design clothes. After having started Ensemble in 1987, Tahiliani went to Fashion Institute of Technology, New York to study design. In 1995, he designed one of the outfits that Jemima Goldsmith wore at her wedding to Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan, heralding the arrival of his eponymous brand on the world stage.

From being the first Indian to showcase at Milan Fashion Week in 2005 to dressing A-listers like Sting, Oprah Winfrey, Elizabeth Hurley, Deepika Padukone, Shilpa Shetty and Katrina Kaif, Tahiliani today is known for his unique synergy of design that blends Indian aesthetics with European craftsmanship. 

In an exclusive interaction with Ciceroni in Ahmedabad, Tarun Tahiliani spoke candidly about Bollywoodization, plagiarism, body positivity and his love for design over business. 

  • How has been your experience in Ahmedabad ? Is it your first visit ?

Tarun Tahiliani–I have Gujarat connections thanks to my family. Both my parents were brought up here, my mother in Ahmedabad and my father in Baroda. I always say that Ahmedabad understood what ‘chic India’ was. I would come to visit Ahmedabad and notice that older Sarabhai house had these beautiful peacocks moving around on the concrete cement styled houses with all things Gujarati and traditional around it. I loved it whereas I felt that Mumbai had become very westernised and fake. It was exquisite what I saw and from that day my head began working on how to blend both the worlds well. 

  • Being a business graduate from Wharton and design graduate from FIT , where does your heart lie – Design or Business ?

Tarun Tahiliani–Purely in design. I must be the only business graduate from Wharton who doesn’t read balance sheet. However, my wife and I saw the opportunity that the market presented when we opened India’s first multi-designer studio – Ensemble in 1987. Beautiful made in India products were available only abroad then. 40 years after the independence, we still supplied the white men with our best products and gave export rejects to Indian market. Now all the brands want to sell in India identifying it as the biggest market. The idea to start Ensemble then spread like a wave and became successful. India has been celebrating the intricate craftsmanship and taking a pride in it. 

  • Bollywood influences fashion a lot. What’s your take on it in the age when parallel movement is rising that recognises real women and makes them the hero ?

Tarun TahilianiMore than anything, Bollywood is used to promote fashion. And I see the value of it because of course there are millions of followers on Instagram who see it and then endorse it. Of course, these are the beautiful Bollywood women who wear it but it’s a bit tiring because they don’t have their own style. 

As for the parallel movement of real women being taken in campaigns, Tarun adds “How much can you see same six women walking the ramp? Fatigue sets in watching the same set of women even on cover of magazines” 

  • Is Body inclusivity for real or mere tokenism for visual campaigns in Indian fashion industry? 

Tarun Tahiliani –Unfortunately a lot of our magazines have made beautiful Indian women feel inadequate because they showcase west-influenced thin structured models. I am guilty of it too in the fashion shows. The problem is when we do the shows we get to see the models on the last day and so we create garments in one standard size. We would like to use model like you, but we will need to get measurement in advance and we currently don’t work in that fashion. 

In fact for our campaigns, we have worked with women of the age of 70 to women of larger size because we love all kinds of beauty regardless of age , size and colour. However logistically speaking, it isn’t possible to do that in fashion shows. 

Some of the most beautiful women who I know don’t even know what a designer wear is. They are dressed in handloom saree, have kohl rimmed eyes and wear silver jewellery and real flowers. The larger sized bodies look most sensuous in draped Indian textiles and bindi with nose pin and kada. It isn’t old fashion, it is just very Indian. 

Unfortunately we are dressing a very small subset of skinny women who are wearing very high end designer labels, wearing a Chanel on one day and wearing a costume Indian garment on the other. I don’t think it’s make sense, make way for your own individual style and let that run through your entire aesthetics. 

  • What does the modern millennial bride want?

Tarun TahilianiThe younger brides that come to me don’t want to be overdone and decked. They want to dance all night and have fun. The millennials don’t want to project what they are not. They just want to be themselves. 

  • What’s your favourite for the Festive season 2019 from your collection?

Tarun TahilianiI am weighing in more towards Kashida embroidery and softer colour palette. It’s very understated and we are working on creating weightless garments. 

  • What’s your take on plagiarism in design ? 

Tarun Tahiliani –Firstly there are a lot of things in design that belong to the cultural context. So I can’t say that Paisley motif is mine.  But what I can do is document this design in my own way and get it copyrighted. I took a designer to court for selling identical garments like mine, it took me 7 years but nothing came out of it. 

Inspiration is different. Going back to different times, taking inspiration from it and creating something on your own. But plagiarism is passing off someone else’s work as yours. The biggest denture for established designers is the reputation damage that it does to the carefully created brand value over so many years. 

I believe whether people plagiarise or not depends a lot on the values of the society. Unfortunately our values are at all-time low. We plagiarise music and movies. We do not value originality. People come with google images and want it to be copied as is. 

  • Should there be central body that checks on plagiarism?

Tarun TahilianiBut how will it be enforced? Bodies like FDCI could have intervened but again implementation will always be a challenge. There is no entry barrier in design. Every corner in Delhi has a boutique making fake copies and passing it off as originals. It’s a challenge to address this issue. Brands however can keep working on originality and keep increasing their level of finesse because that’s very hard to imitate. 

Whether plagiarism will be condemned or not, whether body positive models will walk ramp or not, whether Bollywood actress endorsing will still rule or not are but a few questions that need more rumination in the coming times. 

Till then, let’s collectively celebrate the India Modern through the prism of erudite Tarun Tahiliani. 

Tarun Tahiliani was in Ahmedabad with his opulent festive and occasion wear collection displayed at Panache recently. Hosted by Panache and Krunal Parekh in Ahmedabad, Tarun’s latest collection titled ‘Bloom’ was all about millennial bride’s pragmatic choices juxtaposed with traditional artistry in florals.

October 23, 2022 — CICERONI TEAM

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