Brought up as a Westernized Sindhi in Mumbai’s Colaba area in the late 1960s and early 1970s, couturier Tarun Tahiliani has been, for the last few years, making up for what he calls “lost time”. Fired by a re-exploration of Indian culture which his childhood and early adolescence didn’t allow for, he wants his new zest to seep into his fashion sensibility.
Tahiliani travels to small-town flea markets, Chor bazaars, spiritual ashrams like the Isha Yoga Centre, Dastkar art and craft fairs and the old city of Ahmedabad. He purposefully files away his observations to curate his fashion from a “true-to-India” perspective and soaks in his experiences at a personal level. His visit to the ongoing Maha Kumbh in Allahabad with photographer Rohit Chawla was a journey to document the drapes of the sadhus.
He talks about his Coombhack Collection that will be shown at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW) next month. Next season it will be sold from all his stores in the country. Tahiliani says that at no time does he want his fashion to be imitative of the past. Rather, it must be Indian modern. Edited excerpts:
What made you think of the Kumbh ‘mela’ in particular for a fashion collection?
For years I have been exploring and creating structured drapes, as the industry knows. I have been photographing them too, whether they are dhotis from India or sarongs from Indonesia. The draped form has always been the mainstay of Indian fashion—if you parachuted out of a plane a hundred years back, you would still recognize people from different regions by the way they draped fabrics on their body, as of course with the weaves or craft. It’s such a tragedy that Indian women who once wore drapes so easily now want sari drapers to drape them in one. An unstitched drape may be voluminous after all, not something that makes one look tiny as a fitted sheath might, much as the latter may not suit the average Indian figure and which Western fashion trends seem to constantly mandate. In this changing context, whenever I have looked at the drapes of sadhus and fakirs, I found something so unconsciously sensual in their layering. They wear their drapes so uniquely yet so spontaneously, which gives it an allure and exoticism. Not just the layering—their hair, the tattoos, beads, lungis, I find all of it incredible and individualistic.
So I found this visit to the Kumbh quite irresistible. Yet, because it was very cold, many fakirs were wearing a variety of chaddars, which added to the dimensions of the garment, although, in some cases, hiding the way they would basically wind a piece of cloth around them. I found the sights spectacular, especially as a canvas for a fashion collection!
What about the colour palette? Will you stick to the colours of the Kumbh?
I have always loved red, white and black but for this collection, which will have more than 50-plus pieces for men and women, we have added pinks, orange and tangerine, not so much saffron. In India we think of the colour saffron in various ways but if you really look at what people wear at the Kumbh, the fabrics have faded over time, the reds and pinks don’t look as blazing as you would imagine them sitting somewhere else. It’s not intended to be fashion but it is fashion in the nuances it offers!
Is this collection also going to be bridal couture?
No, no, not at all. It’s a ready-to-wear line. It will have separates, wraps and other pieces that can be used on their own or mixed up for formal or evening wear. Very stylish people prefer separates to form their own identity. Others may prefer to be handed entire ensembles. One of my clients tells me she wears heavy couture lehengas with polo necks and finds she is one of the more well-dressed women at a black tie! That’s what I learn from the people who wear my fashion. It’s exhilarating to watch the wearer’s individuality get inspired by a garment. We are also working on pricing our ready-to-wear more accessibly now as we are interested in creating volumes. This collection will be priced from Rs.4,500 onwards.
Do your drapes sell equally well abroad?
The NRIs love drapes but not the Western or Arab clients. International designers interpret drapes quite well themselves so the novelty for most clients from other countries who come to Indian designers is handwork or embroidery, not the drape.