Exclusive: Tarun Tahiliani on completing 25 years, digital medium & future of Indian bridal wear
How does one begin to describe the phenomenon that is Tarun Tahiliani? Creative, talented, visionary and genius are a few words one can start with, but that wouldn’t really be doing him justice. He is also generous with his time and energy; funny, articulate and generally fabulous overall. This is what you get when you meet him in person or what shines through when you chat with him on the phone. But it’s only when you pay closer attention that you understand what truly makes him tick. It might not necessarily jump out at you when you look at the skillfully embellished, impeccably crafted clothes that he creates, but most important of all is that he is committed to simplifying, modernising, and adapting to the changing times, without losing focus on heritage and craftsmanship.
In an Instagram Live viewed by thousands of users last week, the legendary designer, unveiled his Autumn/Winter 2020 collection, Pieces Of You, with a full-length fashion show. The quickness with which the designer took to this online medium is testament to his remarkable ability to stay relevant. This strong move, in response to the ongoing pandemic, is only one in a long list of his innovative ideas, which include the concept sari, the ‘liquid gold’ fabric (jersey printed with gold foil) and his reinterpretation of brocade (a softer and lighter weave that is more fluid than stiff), among others. “The situation we find ourselves in is so grim. And I thought, why not do what I can so people have something interesting to look forward to,” says Tarun, over the phone from his home in Delhi.
Putting together a show of such scale is no easy feat. When you add to that the prescribed social distancing norms, the co-ordination and effort required to pull it off is simply unfathomable. Shot over three weeks, the digital presentation featured 110 ensembles spanning their bridal wear, occasion wear and ready-to-wear lines, and featured 80 models. Tarun’s spacious moodboard room on the ground floor of his sprawling 43,000-square-feet Gurugram atelier was converted into the runway on which the models showcased his exquisitely crafted line-up of lightweight lehengas, shararas, peplum blouses, concept saris, structured drapes, anarkalis and fusion-style jumpsuits. The arched lights, a taupe and jade setting and stunning carpets from the antique collections of The Carpet Cellar, all came together harmoniously to allow the garments to shine on the ramp.
“The models were given individual bags with a snack, water and anything else they might need, on arrival, so there was no sharing of food or other essentials. And we converted some of the rooms in our atelier into green rooms. So each model got a room to themselves, unless of course, the space was big enough to follow social distancing. The make-up artists and staff helping them into the clothes all had to wear hazmat suits and face shields, so everything was done with strict safety precautions,” explains Tarun.
Making the switch
Given that the show was a resounding success, it would have been only natural for the designer to want to explore the medium further, but he clarifies that he’s merely making the most of the current situation. “I approached it as I would a regular show. My sister, Tina, called after it was streamed to tell me that she preferred this to a normal show because there was no jostling for space, no small talk and it started on time. And more importantly, she felt it was easier to see all the detailing on the garments. But you know what, yes I have gone online now, but I will go offline when all this blows over,” says the designer, adding, “I’ve just signed up for online yoga classes, which is great, but if I have to shop for fabric or clothes or a car, I would like to do it offline.”
His current collection is among the multiple ways he’s celebrating 25 years in the industry. In February this year, he held a tour of his atelier, regaling the gathered journalists with stories about how his journey began, peppering it with anecdotes and his long-held views on topics ranging from complicated bridal wear to the elegance of the sari. Then he hosted a guided walk around the Qutub Minar, one of his favourite monuments, just yards away from his 12,000-square-feet Mehrauli store, where the same set of journalists were joined by models dressed in some of his most exquisite creations. We also hear that there’s a coffee table book in the offing — a retrospective of his work over the past two-and-a-half decades. But it’s only in Pieces of You that you see his true genius come to life. It’s a collection that highlights and reflects his creative vision since he set foot in the industry. “The year 2020 has forced us to look inwards. And some of us have embraced that challenge. Hitting the reset button has been nothing but an act of bravery. Questions, stories, memories, dreams – so many hidden parts of us are now coming to the fore. So with the onset of the new season, it feels like the only thing to celebrate now is you,” he says, when asked how he arrived at the concept for the collection.
Live and learn
That Thursday, when thousands of his followers tuned into his Instagram show, what they witnessed was the Tarun Tahiliani story — 25 years compressed into a mesmerising 25-minute video. Among the many highlights was his take on modern draping — dresses, blouses and concept saris skillfully draped to create sophisticated and elegant silhouettes. The Tahiliani brocade — soft, light, and pliable,
yet retaining the brilliance of the centuries-old weaving technique — too made an appearance in a number of saris and some of the most stunning overcoats. “The hand-painted muted green duster jacket with kashida embroidery is one of my absolute favourites from this range,” reveals Tarun, who is also busy finishing some of his projects under Ahilia Home — his architecture and interior design brand.
Taking cues from his 1996 Byzantium collection, some of the other ensembles included neutral beige and golden lehengas and saris, and a breathtaking pair of zardosi-embroidered leggings, worn with
an embroidered bustier and voluminous shirred Italian tulle overlay. Also showcased were the numerous techniques that make up the DNA of his brand — chikankari, mukaish embroidery, pearl embellishments, resham work and jamdani among a host of others.
On the cards
“I have revisited a lot of old pieces in this collection. But I feel that going forward, brides will want to
keep it simple. With weddings getting smaller and more intimate, the need to outshine everyone else through their outfits will not be the most important thing on the agenda. I think the focus will shift to refined and pared down looks, and people will gravitate towards what they like, rather than towards something that they can show off in, which is not really a bad thing, if you ask me. As a result, we will be looking at ways to refine our craftsmanship further,” he shares, before adding, in conclusion, “What is fashion if you can’t communicate your ideas? You must keep reinventing yourself to stay relevant. That is what really makes the difference.”
As a designer what has been your greatest influence?
The ordinary people of India, before they became Westernised. The elegant way they dressed and draped their saris.
Name some authors / books that you love.
William Dalrymple - I think he’s very articulate and has a wealth of knowledge. I also loved Andre Leon Tally’s memoir, The Chiffon Trenches. Another book I enjoyed is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. David Brooks is one writer I keep returning to.
What advice do you have for young designers impacted by the pandemic?
It’s a tough industry as it is, and it’s only going to get much tougher. So be prepared and proceed with your eyes open.
What’s one thing you would like to change about Indian bridal wear?
Less projection, more feeling beautiful.