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Fashion is about clothes, not the showstopper, says Tarun Tahiliani

The designer talks about his collection for the ongoing FDCI X Lakme Fashion Week, return to the physical stage and whether covid has really changed the industry

A sketch from Tarun Tahiliani's upcoming collection ‘The Reunion’. 
A sketch from Tarun Tahiliani's upcoming collection ‘The Reunion’.  (Courtesy Tarun Tahiliani)

Tarun Tahiliani opened the FDCI X Lakme Fashion Week on 5 October, with the digital showcase of his autumn-winter collection The Reunion.

The collection, which will be presented in a physical show on 7 October, showcases a line of draped evening lehengas and occasion-wear “with a serious fashion twist as opposed to a bridal bent”.

Also read: Designing clothes is like writing a song, say Pankaj and Nidhi

We spoke to Tahiliani about his new collection, return to the physical stage after a long time and whether the pandemic has really changed the fashion industry. Edited excerpts:

Tarun Tahiliani
Tarun Tahiliani (Company handout)

How does it feel to be back to the physical format… it’s been more than a year?

Two (years) actually. I think it's actually wonderful to be back because you know, we've all had to do a lot of shooting in the studio (for online shows), posting on social media, and it’s been very good for the business. But there's just something about the energy and movement of a live show, as opposed to being in a tiny space where you've got people running around for an Instagram video. You feel more alive in a live show. 

It's also very significant because the two fashion weeks (FDCI’s and LFW’s) are back together again. It’s nice to see everybody working together; it's better to have one powerful umbrella than many fractured fashion weeks. You can then focus on making clothes shine and not Bollywood (for showstoppers), if you know what I mean. Fashion is about clothes, not the showstopper.

Your new collection is about marrying traditional with the contemporary, something you’ve done in the past. What makes ‘The Reunion’ different?

It's how I always work. The more I look at my children, other millennials, I realise they're growing up in a global world. It's one thing to love tradition, but to keep going on about costumes of royal India, it’s all lovely, but we have to live in the now. 

So the clothes now need to be lighter. People should be able to use them and dance and have fun. And also people should want to rewire their clothes and buy less and buy better quality. So all this, to me, is coming together more and more. We've had a lot of time to do R&D during the pandemic. And I'm very pleased with the outcome. So we take the chikankari and other Indian embroideries, which are so Indian, but the way we construct is more global.

What’s been your approach for the new collection?

You will find a lot of pichwai and chikankari. We have draping of Indian textiles. We have done a lot of paintings and then we've printed them and done embroidery, so the look is heavier than it actually is. 

The sad thing about a lot of Indian expensive goods is that people say ‘oh, well it looked okay’ but it was very heavy, like back-breaking heavy. Of course, then you can’t expect them to repeat those clothes. I think the basis of luxury is that the product is repeated. I really feel that everyone sat at home for so long that now we have become much more concerned with comfort and lightness. We need to find the new comfort for Indian fashion. 

How would you define that comfort?

Imagine when someone's coming down the red carpet at the Met Gala. Do you think that anybody abroad would wear anything uncomfortable? I've never seen a dress that weighs more than, say, four or five kilos. It just doesn't exist. I mean, of course, there are exceptions but largely they don’t. It's a different value system here. In the last decade and because of Instagram, it’s become okay here (in India) to never want to repeat something. So it’s become much more important to create more functional pieces that can be repeated in different ways.

And your collections are certainly becoming more functional…

It's the way forward. We tell brides to wear their clothes later in a different way, like we are even happy to turn them (the lehenga) into coordinates. If we all want to stop quacking about making the world better and making it sustainable and not boring, then we've got to all start consuming differently. The only way to do this is to consume less, but make and buy better quality. You don't need 90 billion things in the landfill every year because it's not going away. We had a hot September (in Delhi), there’s flooding, there’s fire. We have really hurt the planet. What are we waiting for? We have to change the way we live.

What do you want the viewer to feel after they watch your live show?

That they are living again. I think everyone's been so tired of being cooped up that people are out and about now. I want them to feel that they are getting back into life. That they should be conscious and make responsible choices. And if you do for yourself, you are eventually doing it for the planet. 

During the past one and a half years, there's been a lot of conversation about sustainability. But now you see these fashion weeks, the Met Gala, it’s all about extravagance and producing trends-based clothes. It doesn’t seem like the fashion industry has taken the whole ‘be-green’ conversation seriously. Are we slowly getting back to our old ways?

People right now are buying basically bridal clothes and outfits related to other wedding functions. And most brides are going to wear new things at their weddings, right? So that's the biggest category right now. The change that has happened is that they are looking for clothes they can repeat in the future. 

But I agree with you that the industry really needs to buckle up. It's how we consume, what we consume, how much we consume, how conscious we are… I think these are things that are going to make a difference in the end. It's not going to be easy. It's going to take a sacrifice on all of us. If you go on holidays five times a year, you can’t definitely be living a sustainable life. We are all trying to change but I don’t know how much of it will really translate into something 100% positive.  

Also read: Why Bvlgari recreated the ‘mangalsutra’


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