Chronicles of a Couturier

Photography: Akshay Sharma , Team TT

Chronicles of a Couturier Tarun Tahiliani

A name and brand synonymous with timeless fashion and inherent style, from the very beginning, Tarun’s fascination with drapes has set his fashion statements far apart from the rest. His simplistic and highly intelligent translation of the traditional saree with drapery inspired from across cultures, has placed him on the international map of elegance. He is undoubtedly one of the finest couturiers’ India has seen. Celebrating 25 years of the unmatched artistry of the King of couture, Tarun Tahiliani, we sit down in his studio to relive those years and he introduces me to some of the key moments, people, places and conversations that have shaped the designer he is today. 

Tarun’s sojourn into fashion began with co-founding Ensemble, a multi-designer store; one of the first of its kind in the country. “When we were starting Ensemble I went to meet Martand Singh. He was a wonderful man whose whole purpose was to restore textiles and because of that he worked closely with artisans. It was the first time someone was talking to me about textiles and India. Where I grew up, everyone was very westernised; we learnt the piano and the girls did ballet and all the women wore chiffon. There was some handloom amongst the Gujaratis but everyone was trying to be white without realising it. We were brown whites. And we thought that was cool.” 

After graduating from business school, there was a sudden shift in his thoughts and he realised he needed to get away and explore his own path. It was his meeting with Martand Singh and introduction to the book Vishwakarma that opened his eyes to some- thing new. “When I went to meet Martand he gave me this book, Vishwakarma. Basically the author of the book went around the country and documented each weaver that did anything of any value and filled it with beautiful little shlokas. They photographed people engaging in every process. They captured tribal people working in the midst of nowhere and so this started my education. I first went to Benaras and through the book I would go to each person and learn from him or her. I came across fabric made of peacock feather. They weave the feather and it ends up looking like the body of a peacock. In my opening collection I did little gilets and Nehru topis with it. Then I went to Kutch and roamed around there. I went to every block weaver and soaked in how much ever I could and that’s when my real education started.” 

Vishwakarma became the college of textiles for Tarun, a pilgrimage of sorts to hone his somewhat rustic talent and familiarise himself with various nuances of the fashion and textile industry to decide what resonates with him. “I learnt more from this book than I have learnt from any school. I still refer to it as now second or third genera- tion is involved so I meet them. This book was given to me in 1987 and will hold on to it for as long as I can. There is no pretense. It’s simple, it’s real and it’s beautiful.” 

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Text Shruti Kapur Malhotra