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Tarun Tahiliani designs the first-ever full-length digital fashion show

In his new collection, the fashion designer emphasises on light, effervescent clothing, which helps one embrace a new way of life and not hinder it

The black halo concept sari from 'Pieces of You'
The black halo concept sari from 'Pieces of You'

Of late, Tarun Tahiliani has been thinking of novel ways of adapting to this new normal, brought about by the pandemic. So, instead of doing a live show with a handful of people, he recently organised a full-length digital fashion show to launch ‘Pieces of You’, which spotlights the designer’s Autumn/Winter 2020 collection. The presentation featured 110 garments, including highlights from the bridal, occasion-wear and ready-to-wear lines. The show was conceptualised and shot at Tahiliani’s studio in Gurgaon, with proper social distancing norms in place. The mood board room was transformed into a ramp-like setting, with the lighting keeping the silhouettes and details of each garment in sharp focus. The walls, flooring and backdrop were customised to suit each piece from the collection.

Comprising lightweight lehengas, peplum blouses, fusion-style jumpsuits, concept saris, dhotis and kurtas with multiple layers of fabric, the collection is about finding one’s own inner voice. “This year has forced us to look inwards. Hitting the reset button has been nothing but an act of bravery. Questions, stories, memories, dreams, many hidden parts of us are now coming to the fore," says Tahiliani, as he heads to his store in Delhi. He now wants to do up the entire space along the lines of the show. “People can zoom in. Some people might make an appointment and come in. This is a new world and we are trying to see how we can best adapt to it," he says. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Tarun Tahiliani
Tarun Tahiliani

How is the atelier adapting to this new normal?

The lockdown came down on us suddenly. Our couture pieces got delayed as they are usually done last, after the occasion-wear and ready-to-wear lines. Everything got shut down. When we opened in May, we wanted to finish the collection. But as time went by and we entered June, things started getting worse, in terms of the spread of infection, and with millions losing their jobs. What we used to sell in a day, we were selling in ten days. The only people who were calling in were brides. Weddings were still happening and brides needed to shop. So, I thought of putting out a new collection. That cycle of freshness and creativity was required to keep the artisans and designers going. I know the business will be a fraction of what it used to be, but that’s okay. We have to make the most of it and keep going.

How challenging was it to put together a digital presentation in a time like this?

It’s not like we didn’t have problems when we first opened. Three of our people got infected, and we had to shut down again, fumigate the premises, and more. But now we have adjusted to this way of working. We are very strict about social distancing. People can only be seated on alternate machines. If you are not wearing a mask, you have to leave. It’s not just being responsible for yourself but for others as well. We are sanitising and disinfecting spaces and surfaces constantly.

We work in this beautiful studio, and we decided to use that as the space for conceptualising and presenting the show. The mood board room, where we develop new ideas, was emptied out and transformed into a ramp-like setting, with a faded miniature painting as a backdrop. I did a test shot and loved it. The rooms and offices upstairs were converted into individual green rooms for the models. When you came in, you brought your own water, fruit, or whatever you needed to get through the day. A packed meal, sealed properly, was delivered to the room once a day for lunch. The makeup and hair crew worked on a separate floor and the models had to go in one by one. Everyone was given shields, gloves, masks, and touch wood, we didn’t have a single incident.

What has been the response to the show, and also learnings from this experience?

My sister, Tina, messaged me, saying that she enjoyed this more. She could see every detail of the garment and rewind the presentation to look at a segment again. When we do a live show, there are some 400 people in the audience. But this digital show has already got 10,000-12,000 hits. There has been a giant engagement and that’s amazing. This is a new world. Of course, there is a social element to a live show, with people dressing up to come in, to see and to be seen. There is electricity when the show starts. But that is only palpable to the 200-300 people present.

Some fascinating responses have come in to this digital show. Clients in Dubai put together a small cocktail party and projected the show in their homes. Everyone has had different comments. People have said to me that they were bored of being so drab and the show made them dream and feel good again. That is what fashion tends to do, it uplifts you. It has been a very satisfying experience. When the show ended, I was so wired up that I immediately started working on the next concept. As we celebrate 25 years of the brand, there are some iconic pieces in the collection, which I am doing separate films on. All the single videos that will come out next week are streams of consciousness. I have written the text, taken images of paintings, museums statues and woven them into the videos. What you will be watching is a thought process.

How does the new collection address the need for comfort and lightness for the modern Indian bride, especially in the situation that we are in today?

I have always wanted comfort. We have some warped notions about what is heaviness and ‘royale’. No rajwada dresses in a way that they can’t move. In fact they are so elegant and refined. If someone wears a necklace down to their waist, to me, that is 'nouveau', simply showing off. In this collection, we wanted lightness and effervescence. Clothing must help you embrace this new way of life and not hinder it. That’s my philosophy. Someone else can have a different one, and that’s okay. If you are a bride, you will make the effort to shop. But there will only be 50 people at the gathering if you follow the law and be sensible. Earlier, you might have worn a big glittering thing to a thousand-people gathering in a stadium. But you will look mad wearing that in front of 50 people in a home setting. Today, you might choose a beautiful chikankari lehenga instead. And I can tell you a lot of brides—educated smart girls—just want to be themselves. 'Pieces of You' is all about that—the basis of being stylish is not that you can wear 100 different looks. Rather, it is about taking something and making it your own, about letting your personality shine.

Kashida lehenga
Kashida lehenga

What are some of the highlights from the collection for you?

For one, there is the sari gown, with a slit at the back. Even though it is a single piece, the slit demarcates the choli from the rest. We are also showcasing techniques developed in the studio over the past 25 years. For instance, in the opening sequence, you might have seen the crinkled drape with a little bit of Swarovski. At one time, it was so cool for people to wear at destination weddings. You fly in and slip this on. You have a bling on your neck, so you don’t need to carry a neckpiece. It is not just about making pretty things but about addressing the needs of the people. I really like the layering in the menswear, with belts and draped cummerbands. And I love the use of chikankari, I have done it for years in both western wear and Indian wear. I like clothes to have soft fluidity, and I think the collection incorporates that.

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