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Couture king

Designer Tarun Tahiliani believes that everyone enjoys a little glamour in their lives

TARUN TAHILIANI, the designer widely credited with bringing couture fashion to India's doorstep, is synonymous with lavish design. He has been flown to West Asia to design what he calls, "hair-raising couture" for oil-rich sheikhs and his famous bridals won over Jemima Khan, who commissioned him to design her wedding outfit.

A typical wedding sari, designed by Tarun, would come swarming with delicate Lucknow chikankari embroidery, and covered in lashings of Swarovski crystals and semi-precious stones.

Unsurprisingly, these designs don't come cheap: Tarun charges between Rs. 3 lakh and Rs. 5 lakh to kit out the average bride for her big day.

He is not shy about his preference to work elaborately. As he puts it: "I get bored without detail and romance in clothing. My designs aim at conjuring up a dream image that is rooted in the extraordinary."

Recently however, the designer has been persuaded to come down from the dizzy heights of couture fashion and start a prêt-a-porter range, an affordable line of clothing. The bulk of the designs are priced at below Rs. 7,000 and are currently available only at his couture clothing store, Ensemble, in Mumbai.

Tarun has just returned from Milan, Italy where he was showing off the line's Spring/Summer 2004 collection.

The look is dressy, resort, and evening wear with Tarun's trademark luxurious and fragile fabrics in vibrant colours. Despite the line's international market, Tarun has tried to incorporate some of the authentically Indian look in his designs.

He said: "Traditional Indian fashions are over the top for the West, with all their embroidery and jewelling, but we have kept to the Indian practices of draping and wrapping.

It's a way of wearing fabric that the Indians do with great ease; but for Europe, the cut has to be more international and less hard work.

The line consists of in-built draped and wrapped designs which give the same feel without all the effort."

Although one of India's most sought-after designers, internationally, Tarun Tahiliani started life in a very different direction. He majored marketing at the Wharton School of Business and then went on to work in his family's business, selling offshore oil in Aberdeen, Scotland, for two years. A period during which, Tarun claims, he almost died of boredom. He said: "I was always interested in fashion. But the deciding moment for me was seeing my first fashion show, where my wife, Sailaja, was modelling clothes by the designer Rohit Khosla."

Subsequently, he studied at the New York Fashion Institute of Technology and went on to fashion retailing, opening his store Ensemble in 1987, which stocked all of India's top design names and some foreign designers like Neil Beif and Zandra Rhodes. He later launched his own couture label, Ahilian, which is available in Ensemble stores in Mumbai and New Delhi. Just last week he opened his first own label store in New Delhi.

Visiting Bangalore last weekend to show off his Milan ready-to-wear collection, as part of the Blender's Pride Fashion Tour held at the Taj West End Hotel last weekend, Tarun says he is busy "gauging the response to my clothes the fun way".

And the response seems to be a positive one. He adds: "Previously, I didn't think market was big enough in the South for evening wear.

Always designs have sold well in the North where weddings are traditionally 10 days long and very flamboyant. Now there is a new dynamic in Bangalore and the South. Everyone enjoys a little glamour in their lives and this is what my designs provide. Ultimately everyone will judge an outfit by how many compliments they get."


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