An hour before the well-heeled guests troop in, Tarun Tahiliani monitors arrangements at his new store on road no.10, Banjara Hills. A stern look of disapproval is enough to smooth things before the launch.
Minutes later, when he sits down to talk to us in the couture section, he looks around at the 4500 sqft store that adheres to the ‘India modern’ aesthetic, with pride. ‘India modern’ has been the guiding principle of all his stores, including a heritage property he remodelled into a store in Kolkata recently. “We work with Indian craftsmen for nearly everything, from hand-blown chandeliers to carpets and clothes. Only the tulle is Italian because we haven’t found an Indian replacement,” he says, showing me his design book of ‘Proud to be Indian’ limited edition carpets. The carpets draw from techniques of chikankari and paisleys to abstract art.
- Copyright: “We used to copyright earlier and sued people, but won nothing. So we stopped it. We will begin again, because eventually it will be worth it,” says Tarun, discussing plagiarism. He’s observed well known retail stores in Hyderabad displaying “weird-looking and bad quality copies” and has spotted some of the elite clientèle wearing them. “It’s part of the evolution process,” he shrugs, adding, “I’ve also spotted some of the most best-dressed young women in the city.”
- A world of opportunities: Travelling through India, particularly in the south from Coimbatore to Chennai and Pondicherry, he’s been fascinated. “Every city is complex with a 100 influences and we don’t know enough. The popular imagery of Indian design has been skewed to Punjab thanks to Bollywood.”
Tarun has had a long association with Hyderabad and the Deccan (his wife Sailaja is from this region). He talks fondly about shopping in Charminar and rolls his eyes at the “weird outfits” he came across at a graduation ceremony of a city-based fashion institute. “That’s okay, they are students,” he brushes it off.
His new store is larger, displaying ready-to-wear, occasion wear, and couture on three different levels. The signature TT motif is visible on glasses, chandeliers and the brass frames with jaali . He says, “Design circles call Hyderabad Punjab of the south. People like to dress up and live fabulously. It’s a huge market for us and I like uncluttered spaces. And it made sense to be on a street where other designers are.”
India’s modern aesthetic drives all his creations. He takes cues from the opulent past and understands that clothes have to work for today’s women and men. This is also why he’s unapologetic about his pre-draped saris. “Puritans may not agree, but the world doesn’t change because of them. I love the traditional, stiff kanjivarams but young brides want something lighter and structured. They want to dance. The coolest brides are the ones who can dance all night in the same bridal sari and leave the venue at 6am!” He adds after a pause, “Oh, these days even grandmothers like to wear fun creations.”
In 2018, Tarun Tahiliani travelled with a seven-member design team to Egypt, and the observations of the Pharaonic era — its art, architecture, cultural symbolism and iconography — translated into his ‘India by the Nile’ spring-summer 2019 collection. “Some are literal inspirations and in some cases we’ve used a motif, a leaf… nothing is overpowering,” he explains. Lightweight fabrics such as muslins, tulle and silk georgettes in ivory, pastel pinks, aqua and mint go into dresses and saris, lehengas, skirts, jumpsuits and more. Then there’s the engineered fabric called ‘liquid gold’ where a jersey is gold foil printed and transformed into a flowy jumpsuit. “The fabric development goes through several stages until we make it molten enough to drape. Indian tissue used to look like this once, not any more,” he states.
The drape has been a Tarun Tahiliani favourite. “Indian men and women have always draped, be it saris, dhotis or turbans. We weren’t wearing multi-coloured kurtas in the past. I’ve seen young women wear them and then wanting to learn to drape saris,” he signs off.