Tarun Tahiliani tells Neha Mujumdar that luxury is about more than just money
Tarun Tahiliani is often credited with being the first to bring luxury wear and the concept of opulence to India. Ensemble, the store he set up in 1987, is called India’s first “upmarket boutique”. But today, after 20 odd years in the industry, he’s looking forward to a time when “things stop being so elitist”. “We’ve had the retail revolution. The next revolution is about to start, where things percolate down to different levels,” says Tarun. He was in town recently in connection with a preview of jewellery created by the Abaran store, using Forevermark diamonds. “Today, we are here for elitism,” the designer acknowledged, while claiming that this particular variety of diamonds “have a moral basis”. Forevermark diamonds are said to have strict selection criteria for quality.
In saying ‘moral basis’ for diamonds, Tarun was referring to the often troubled back-stories of the shiny gems. Popular awareness of ‘ethical’ or ‘conflict-free’ diamonds rose after the Edward Zwick-directed, Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer Blood Diamond.
Besides the fact that diamonds can be used to aid strife, especially in diamond-rich countries in Africa, mines are often sites of environmental and human rights abuses. A certification program called the ‘Kimberley Process’, in force since 2000, aims to ensure the ‘conflict-free’ part for diamonds.
De Beers, founded by the same Cecil Rhodes after whom the Rhodes scholarship is named, is the umbrella company for Forevermark, and is said to control about 40 per cent of the rough diamonds market. It reportedly hopes to train its guns on India, which it sees as a potentially large market for the diamonds.
At the preview, two models wore Tarun’s clothes: one was a lehenga, the other was an anarkali. Tarun noted that in north India, people tend to go traditional in terms of jewellery choices for a wedding, but prefer diamonds for receptions or sangeets. “They want a twist with modernity on some days. That’s the trend,” he observes. But later, the designer chose to reject the idea of the trend itself. “People should do what suits them. If a 100 people are carrying a handbag because the big brand store stocks them, that says nothing.”
Tarun insists that his love for luxury doesn’t entail a rejection of the everyday or the utilitarian. “People have some very superficial notions about luxury. They think walking around with a bag with a huge logo is luxury. But if the zipper gets stuck, it’s not luxury. Luxury has to be a personal, not a generic thing.”
Tarun grew up with a love for sculpture and architecture. After a stint at business school, he took up fashion design, with an agenda to reclaim Indian design. “There were beautiful things being made in India which were not available to Indians. We were selling it abroad. Are we so colonised that we give the white man all our best stuff?” But he doesn’t see himself as championing the cause of traditional crafts, either. “I’m not a crafts crusader. I protect what is relevant to my work, I do it with the crafts that I like. I don’t design something thinking, ‘Oh, I have to look after this and this’.”