Tarun Tahiliani is no crusader and he is the first one to admit that. “Sari-gowns” (like printed T-shirts with jewels earlier) are his new objects of interest but he’s clear he doesn’t have a larger purpose in mind. “I am not driven because the sari needs a revival. I love it as an aesthetic and I am obsessed with draping. I have done pre-constructed saris before but perhaps the time for that innovation was not right then. Now it is. The sari is disappearing off the Indian landscape because younger women feel intimidated by it. ‘I need someone to come and tie it’, ‘It is not sexy’, ‘How can I dance in it’—a sari-gown is the answer to all these.”
Artist designer: (clockwise from TOP left) Tarun Tahiliani at his home-office; a sari-gown from the collection that will be showcased at the Bridal Exposition. Priyanka Parashar / Mint; and Indira Devi, the Maharani of Cooch Behar, who was Tahiliani’s muse for his forthcoming bridal collection. ‘A Princess Remembers’ / Rupa & Co
He thinks it’s a “great triumph” that Indian celebrities are choosing the sari over the gown at red carpet events, such as the recently concluded International Indian Film Academy (Iifa) awards. “But if you want to wear a gown, at least call Dior. Don’t wear a horrific knock-off .”
We meet at Tahiliani’s home office, a rectangular room lit naturally by an oversized skylight. There’s a cluttered mix of Indian furniture and artefacts such as two large black metalwork screens with animal motifs, many books, canvases and a Nespresso coffee machine that Tahiliani insists makes the best cuppa in town.
At 47, after a decade and a half in the business of designing clothes, Tahiliani says he finally feels he is in tune with himself. “Normally, people’s own style gets defined in their 30s and 40s. Donna Karan came into her own at 37, Armani started his label at 41. By the time I started designing seriously, I was 30. It’s taken me 10-15 years to learn and now I feel I have command and understanding of myself.”
In around 10 days, Tahiliani will roll out the second edition of The Tarun Tahiliani Bridal Couture Exposition at DLF Emporio mall, Delhi; he has just previewed select pieces from this line. The colours are muted (mustard, beige, sapphire, burgundy), the veils are made from translucent fabric; sari-gowns, bodysuits and anarkali kurtas have all made it to the line. “My inspiration has been images of Indira Devi of Cooch Behar (mother of the famous Gayatri Devi),” he says.
The event idea is based on a procession in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, and Tahiliani envisions it as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the era of the maharajas—though he insists he will not duplicate the feel. “It will be a son et lumière and will have all that I associate with couture—performing arts, fun, theatre, a bit of fantasy…and wearable clothes.”
But can any wedding outfit really be called wearable? “How in the hell will the bride dance all night if she has to wear a 20kg outfit?” he asks.
Err...our point exactly.
“Wedding outfits should not weigh more than 6kg and still look good. Modernity lies in the lightness of an outfit.” Next on Tahiliani’s list is proportion and fit. “Brides are conscious about their figures today. They want backless cholis and they no longer sit in one place with a ghunghat. So we have to learn how to do away with a 400 kali skirt, and get the same impact from 30 kalis. We have to use architecture while designing.”
Tahiliani says he never ceases to be amazed at the kind of pain women are willing to bear for the sake of fashion. “I don’t understand you women. You are willing to suffer a lot for fashion and let me tell you this suffering is not for a man’s sake. You do it for each other, so don’t blame us.”
On his part, Tahiliani insists that he looks for ways to make fashion more comfortable. “Some years ago I was with my friend Nasreen Qureshi in Paris at a bridal show. She wore a chikan sari, and on top wore a short Chanel jacket with the pallu of the sari draped around her neck. She was a sensation. And what a perfect solution that was for women who want to wear saris in winter and don’t want to drape shawls around themselves. I have been making saris with velvet coats for four or five years now.”
Right after the exposition, Tahiliani will be back to doing what he does best—extending his brand and experimenting with new business ideas. He is launching the Tarun Tahiliani line of watches for women in the next few months and is also working on a licensing agreement for designing a line of clothes that will be priced at Rs3,500-9,000. “These will be things that you can wear for a party. I want to do this so that people can buy original Tarun Tahiliani instead of cheap knock-offs.”
Tahiliani believes any successful designer needs a strong business partner and good licensing arrangements. “You cannot manufacture everything on your own at varying price points.”
Tahiliani, who is mostly seen in functional clothes—black T-shirts, khakis, white linen shirts—does admit designing menswear is tough. “Women’s clothing can exist in the realm of fantasy but with menswear I always think, would I wear that? Perhaps because of this I cannot do multicoloured, rainbow Swarovski-encrusted outfits for a man. I have simple taste and maybe because I am around ornate clothes all the time, I can’t really dress up. They say mithaiwala kabhi mithai nahi khata (a person who makes sweets never eats them). Totally true in my case.”