Tarun Tahiliani On Changing Times And Evolving The Course Of Couture

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A few months ago, Tarun Tahiliani opened a sprawling flagship store in a plush South Bombay locality, creating an archival museum of his legacy. While addressing his fashion fandom (including me) present to cheer him on, Tarun took us on a virtual journey, educating us about the history of India and the pivotal role it has played in shaping Indian fashion, especially his personal design language.

Drawing from history while breathing a sense of modernity has been his USP. Whether it was learning the craft of drapes from the various previous dynasties to seeking inspiration from the Mughals for the art of Chikankari. TT’s DNA is dipped in heritage and culture.

Tarun

Having said that, the master couturier continues to have his pulse on the present. The latest bridal couture ‘22 line, ‘The Painterly Dream’ is an amalgamation of everything he embodies as a designer. Keeping the modern women in mind, Tarun’s collection pays homage to the ancient crafts of India, all while serving silhouette trends for the brides of today.

Hours before the show, we catch him checking in on the final detail, as he walks us through his latest presentation in a free-wheeling chat.

Tarun

ELLE: What was the starting point of inspiration for this collection and how did it come together?

Tarun Tahiliani: “Well, you know, we kind of have become interested in identifying as an evolutionary studio. We don’t start with a particular theme, because all our collections build on each other. So, we have kind of pillar collections that are interconnected with each other, which I think more and more our studio’s getting associated with. We have a signature style and we like playing to our strengths—like the Chanel with tweed. For us, it’s fine work of Chikankari and we’ve got some amazing people working with us out of Lucknow.”

“Two years back, I started doing some research on the Itmad-ud-Daula tomb, which was commissioned by Nur Jahan, for her father—it was the precursor to the Taj Mahal. We took lots of images and created all these amazing artworks, which were then painted on and printed as a base. Normally, Chikankari is done on block print designs, but we stopped using block print 12 years back because I preferred my own artworks to the blocks—as it gave me more modulation and we could control the quality.  We’ve also included Kashida work, which is another big staple of ours—painted embroidered, and then we work in single taar aari. This time we also experimented with french knot zardosi, which is much more layered. I gravitate a lot towards Islamic patterns because their design language is so beautiful—and then we do our own kind of madness on it.”

“Then there’s Pichwai, which began during the pandemic as a big story because we all started painting, because we had nothing to do. We started doing embroidered wall hangings to keep the craftsmen going—from there, it became a collection so the show ends with these Pichwai. And of course, there are lots of detailed drapes.”

Tarun

ELLE: A part of the press note said that the Pandemic gave you the time to revisit the technical aspect of couture—movement-wise and flow-wise, making it experiential rather than just dazzling discomfort, as many evening and bridal Indian brands have reached. Could you elaborate on this?

TT: “What happened is, I’ve seen so many brides uncomfortable in their attire. We’ve also been guilty of it in the past, where we don’t care about the weight of embroideries. It’s really ridiculous when you think about it as a concept, that someone is going to pay so much money and be miserable and then can’t wait to get it off. I’ve even seen brides change by 11 pm into something simple and chappals, because they’re so miserable. What’s the point and is that sustainable? No. If you buy things that are beautiful and feel great, you’re gonna wear them again and again. Is there anything that you repeat that you’re uncomfortable in? No.  Like Rihanna entering the Metropolitan ball, in a 20-foot Guo Pei gown. But in real life, you can’t do that. Today, we’re more casual today than at any point in history. We had a lot of time to think about this and work on the techniques that allowed us to make our garments weightless.”

“Coco Chanel didn’t go to fashion school, but she cut the best shoulder because she worked on it every day of her life. You just learn things. We worked on embroideries that look heavy but were weightless, even the crinolines and the under construction were light.”

Tarun

ELLE: Like you said, you had the time to think about the technique to make couture feel weightless. Do you think even the bride’s approach towards couture and buying bridal has changed over the course of the pandemic?

TT: “I thought in the beginning that that’s how people would end up but right after the pandemic people went into revenge buying mode. They wanted to buy the heaviest and wanted to decorate themselves. Everyone was doing too much, like they had been in drought for too long.  But there is a certain section of the brides who want to be natural. I mean, Alia Bhatt looked so simple but she looked like herself. She was radiant and what she wore did not overshine her.”

”I think that’s a fundamental difference. Women are becoming more and more emancipated. Their sense of identity is not from decoration, it’s much deeper and a lot of women I know want to be comfortable while looking beautiful. It’s definitely a change, many don’t even want the bright red anymore. They want softer colours, So, you know, bye-bye Jodha-style brides”

Tarun

ELLE: Indian bridal couture, which is inherently known for being so heavy, royal and Jodha-like as you mentioned, is now moving in a different direction. What do you think has changed?

TT: “In the olden days, women didn’t even come out in public. So, they sat at the ceremonies like they were on display. It didn’t matter what you were doing, you were showing them off. I remember as a kid going into people’s houses when there were weddings and the entire trousseau of jewels used to be on full display. Everyone who came could see what the father was giving the daughter,  It was such a tacky value system. Now, women don’t identify with weddings being treated like a transactional procedure, hence their approach towards dressing themselves has also changed.”

Tarun

ELLE: With more and more corporates being aligned with couture houses, do you think that will help shape the Indian fashion Industry differently?

TT: “Let’s be clear, corporates are more interested in the premium game, because that’s where the real growth is. So in my case, Aditya Birla is very interested in building ‘Tasva’ my pret label because they can open 250 stores, I don’t know if we can open even 10 stores of TT, in the current market. From pricing to manufacturing, it’s all difficult.”

Tarun

ELLE: Recently, we saw the Valentino couture show where Pierpaolo Piccioli took the final bow with the workers from his atelier and the main people who helped him. Do you think it’s about time we see the same recognition and respect given in India?

TT: “I hope so, because if you don’t give them recognition and you treat them like workers, it’s hard to keep the next generation interested. Only if they’re given respect, dignity and made to feel like they’re a part of something larger—they will stay and continue with the craft.  If they are treated as craftsmen and not labourers, I think a lot of people might realise they’re better off working within the village as an artist, rather than being a peon in some urban city.”

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