If there is a personality larger than life, very chirpy, happiest in his track pants that look like trousers (he said it, not me) and full of love for the culture and heritage of his country, it’s Tarun Tahiliani. A conversation with him about couture, clothes, or the evolution of the Indian aesthetic, will be full of stories (some only meant for personal chatting), anecdotes, and devoid of any fashion jargon that you might otherwise expect. Extremely sure of his craft, and even surer of his eye for detail, Tahiliani is one of the biggest couturiers from our country, and the warmest one too.
In July this year, Tahiliani became the first Indian fashion designer to have had a full-length, independent, digital fashion show, given the current scenario. Tahiliani counts his blessings and lessons, explains where we’re at in the menswear space, and looks forward to the newer normal in the world of fashion.
You’ve completed 25 years in the industry. What have been your biggest blessings?
My biggest blessing is that I ended up doing what I love. The second biggest blessing is that it’s a lot of hard work, but so much fun. Since you’re from Mumbai, you will understand this — We were from Colaba, we were very westernised. We never wanted to speak Hindi, and I was not interested in India. But, I discovered the beauty of the country I was born in, and I learnt the compassion and heart of this country, when I was sitting in Kutch learning block painting, or when we were in Banaras. So, my life is rich in many ways, but the biggest gift was that through this, I discovered the India that I love.
And the biggest lessons?
Ego will destroy anything. People who you work with everyday, are not trained the same way as you, or educated with degrees. You need to oversee everything meticulously, till you have a few people that you can trust. The biggest lesson for me that sometimes backfires, is that I treat everybody equally
What is a classic Tarun Tahiliani groom outfit?
I have always loved layering. I don’t like embroidery just for the sake of it. So, my classic groom outfit will have a churidar constructed like a trouser, with some lycra in it, so it’s comfortable. The kurta sherwani will be cut a bit wider from the front so when the groom sits, it won’t look flat and stiff. The emphasis is on making it comfortable, and bringing out the elegance of masculinity. My groom outfits are always about subtlety, comfort, and elegance.
You were a part of India’s first fashion week in 2000. Can you recall the experience?
It was so much fun. I did the finale. It felt like the birth of something exciting was happening. Almost every designer has been born out of these fashion weeks.
What kind of fashion choices does the groom of today make, as compared to a decade ago?
A lot of young adults have the exposure to the best of the world. They are highly educated, they travel. They are constantly after things that look good. They like good tailoring, they are sophisticated, and are not looking to impress someone else. 10 years ago, it was all about bling, and over-the-top attires. We must accept contemporary Indian fashion. Even to the brides, I say, why should you stand with a head cover, from 50 years back? Wear sarees with sneakers. You have got equality and interpretation. Don’t cry wearing 25 kilos, because you cannot walk. Why should you do it? It’s symbolism of the past.
So, when it comes to menswear, what does your brand believe its focus to be?
I like slightly funkier menswear. Layering in an Indian way. I love crazy pants, drapes, bundis, different shapes and sizes of kurtas. I think men look better in Indian clothes, without a doubt. I want to do a more accessible line — from linen to malkhas. I don’t like big floral prints on kurtas, it’s not my taste. I feel it’s too much in an urban mileu. If you are sitting in a garden in Rajasthan, maybe it’ll work, but if I’m in my bedroom, I’ll go for a beige palette.
What are your favourite fabrics to work with?
I like fabrics that have crepe. I love heavy cotton and fabrics with cutwork, wool crepes. I feel heavy silks can be tailored beautifully for men. I also love muslins, heavyweight dupion for embroidery, etc. I treat a lot of my fabrics to make them softer.
Do you think menswear, especially in the wedding space, has become more fluid with its silhouettes?
Grooms have a lower tolerance level, and as things get better, they are going to buy clothes that they can repeat. I have seen a lot of grooms in simple tailored achkans, and just wearing it plain, not even with necklaces. That’s the way forward. They don’t want to be a faux maharaja, but be contemporary Indian chic, and do what suits them best.
You are a fan of bundi jackets, you wear them all the time. How has your personal style influenced your aesthetic?
For me, the bundi is like the choli for a woman. With womenswear, I can do anything, because I am a man. With menswear, I have to ask myself if I would wear what I’m designing. My colours are more muted and toned down. Not that I mind colours, but I don’t want bright colours in embroidery. I have seen men wearing these bright coloured kurtas with gotas, and I find it extremely vulgar. It’s too much. Bollywood is an influential space, and being part of Bollywood should give the country a good taste, not a bad taste. For example, look at the beautiful white outfits of the peshwas in Bajirao Mastani.
How was the experience of doing India’s first fully digital fashion show?
What were the challenges that you faced? We were working with fewer staff members, and we had four cases of Covid in the factory in May. So, we had to shut the factory and fumigate. The only challenge was to do such a big shoot and make sure nobody falls sick. It was such a leap of faith. We shot in the mood board room, which was created with only four painters and carpenters, and they had to maintain social distancing. It brought out creativity in the most fabulous way. In fact, my sister said she could see the clothes better on video, than when we watch the show in person.
How do you see the business of the wedding wear and the festive market change this year?
Weddings are going to be smaller, so the level of dressing up will be smaller as well. The brides and grooms will be dressing the same. But I think people are hoping that it will be done by January, and there will be an explosion. There’s also very bad depression, so in the upper middle and middle class, it will make a difference. Events and festivities will be intimate, and that’s the idea. A lot of these occasions are a bit of a show off, which will hopefully change.
Do you think the current time is making us go back to minimalism?
I think in today’s fashion, we are sitting at home in sweatpants and during Zoom calls, people are wearing business shirts and boxers. So, people are becoming comfortable and wearing casual. They don’t like to dress up, and athleisure was already here. I have been wearing it since a long time even with my bundi jacket. I don’t think people will dress down, when they do get the chance, they will be back to their Indian clothes. In their western clothes, it’s more and more casual.