Indulge catches up with premier fashion buyer and sartorial genius Tina Tahiliani
Tina Tahiliani is one of the people who’s heavily responsible for the democratisation of fashion in this country. The sartorial visionary and entrepreneur started out when the Indian high fashion landscape was challenging and was widely considered to be esoteric. When Tahiliani took up the mantle of the fashion studio Ensemble three decades ago, she may not have envisioned the defining impact her pioneering multi-designer destination will have on shaping up the Indian couture circuit as we know it today. “We didn’t know what we were doing in the beginning!” Tahiliani tells us on the opening night of the 2-day Ensemble pop-up, which took place at The Loft last month.
This was the first time Ensemble had stepped into the city, that too with some straight-off-the-runway outings from Lakme India Fashion Week’s Fall/Winter line-up. Across the sprawling 4,000 square feet expanse of The Loft, we found a high street smorgasboard of Benarasi weaves by Jayanti Reddy, some bona fide Kashmiri Karigari from Nakul Sen’s kilt, Gauri & Nayanika’s taffeta resort minis; other headliners included Rohit Bal, Anushree Reddy, Payal Singhal, Varun & Nidhika, Dhruv Kapoor, Arpita Mehta and many such celebrated names, most of whom were premiering their festive collections for the first time in the city.
After acquiring a Master's in International Policy Studies from Stanford University, Tahiliani started a career as a financial analyst in San Francisco. It was only in 1990 that she only took up the reins of Ensemble, the first-of-its-kind design studio, started by her brother Tarun Tahiliani. Ensemble was started with a vision to nurture local artistry in a fluctuating retail market, and Tahiliani herself, has consistently shaped up the individualistic effort with her personal fashion stance. She may even be India’s first fashion buyer, but it was hardly a cakewalk.
“In a way we were self-taught, but now of course, we buy a lot of merchandise, so over the years I have learned the ropes of being a fashion buyer, while simultaneously not compromising on our vision. Fashion is really about reflecting what’s happening in society, pushing boundaries, about being yourself, and also about not being safe. So, we do not just put our money down on something that’s beautiful and glamorous, we try to marry all four aspects,” Tahiliani tells us.
Tahiliani also reveals that she grew up eating phuchkas near Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, as her aunt used to live in Chowringhee. “We’d have these delicious Chinese sweets from restaurants in Kolkata, which you could never find in Bombay. I have a deep connect with the city, it’s such a warm, loving, enveloping city,” she remarks. On Ensemble’s Instagram page, you find the bio reading, “Then. Now. Tomorrow,” and it really does encapsulate what the iconic store stands for.
Ensemble can also be credited for upholding contemporary handloom and homegrown designs. “Contemporary is a huge, blossoming business. Besides Indian and bridal, we want to feature versatile modern numbers which you can wear, re-wear and pair easily with other looks, focusing on textile and handloom and recognising the craftsmanship of our weavers,” she adds.