'Consumption patterns have drastically changed,' says ace fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani as he talks about pandemic and it's impact

The ace fashion designer also gets candid about making his designs affordable

NiveditaUpdated: Saturday, February 26, 2022, 07:03 PM IST

Exquisite, Exquisite, elegant, and ethereal aptly define Tarun Tahiliani’s creation. A man who has dressed up the best in business is known for fusing Indian craftsmanship and textile heritage in well-tailored silhouettes that are fluid, feminine, and oh-so-flattering. From the time of the late eighties when he opened his fashion store, Ensemble, with his wife, Sal, to starting his eponymous marker in 1990, the master of drape has glamorised Indian wear like never before.

Now, more than three decades later, Tahiliani, who's one of the luminaries of Indian fashion, is making his designs accessible as he teams up with Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail Ltd to produce a new occasion-wear brand for men that is affordable. This marks the first time Tahiliani’s design has been available at price point as little as Rs 1,500 in the menswear macrocosm.

The designer who has been loved by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Shilpa Shetty, Alia Bhatt, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Sonam Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan among others, talks about his new move, affordable fashion, and more. Excerpts from an interview:

Affordability seems to be the new IT word in the fashion world with many elite designers coming up with collections to reach out to the masses. What do you say?

At this moment we want to concentrate on menswear only. In our collective opinion, currently there is only one branded national player in the Indian ethnic men space. To scale this up, we need to be in three or four categories of clothing. This will give great depth, both in terms of styles and sizing to the men who come into the store. The collections under the label TASVA will be more affordable. It has been placed in a tight grid of what is required. It is a new dimension for me and India, mainly because you will get outstanding quality at a premium to bridge pricing.

From the perspective of identity, the new line, too, will use all my principles of fit, form, understated elegance, and my love for colour, whilst giving Indian men an option that they do not, have today. With a target to open 250 stores in 5 years, the scale alone would require us to do many things differently. There are some incredible and affordable fabrics that we are researching; then, we are associating with bigger merchants to source those fabrics. We are reinventing internally and reworking many of our techniques to accommodate the sum of what we have signed up for and much more. We are headed towards a very exciting time together, hoping that our target customers feel the same.

Tell us a little about how this partnership came to be and how corporate backing like this is helping designers' brands grow, especially in times like now when businesses are not so smooth.

I couldn’t be happier about entering into this partnership with Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail, Ltd. because they are just fantastic. They understand scale and numbers like no one else in the market today. Each of their homegrown brands is a resounding success.

Additionally, I have great personal respect for Kumar Mangalam Birla. My engagements with him over the last two years have taught me so much, especially his attention to detail. Since I have never worked with anybody or in any serious corporate structure before, this collaboration has been a huge eye-opener and a joy for me. I love that I come to work every day to learn.

One of the many reasons that made me say yes to this partnership is that I firmly believe that Indian fashion and its consumer base are ready for this step. In my opinion, there is a large section of the market out there that is horribly underserviced. This collaboration permits me the financial freedom to focus on designing and creating for this underserved segment.

Even with my luxury brand, more than anything else, I have always been interested in bringing lightness and understated elegance in my garments to the fore. This is especially so after the challenging year we have all had, and it has become even more critical for me to build on those values. And for me, this partnership has allowed me to do what I do best, which is design and build on both - the new and the existing brand. It is challenging to be continually creating when you have a million other things to take care of and a business to run. I hope to have greater freedom to design and have my partners come in and run distribution, their forte.

What about the creative challenges while associating with a new brand with different ideologies?

The couture business has been a giant R&D lab for patterns, techniques, artworks and embroideries. And, because we served a very small subset, we never really saw the big picture of what the country has to offer or needs. An essential aspect of which is making luxury accessible just by simplifying it. The significant benefit of working with a partner like this is their retraining our minds to understand possibilities. They can help us learn how to make products accessible that go across a spectrum. I think that will be invaluable when combined with their marketing expertise and distribution. In principle, TASVA will have the classic Tarun Tahiliani fit, attention to form, the play of colours, etc., but we will have to accommodate it to the scale of the task that we have undertaken. With a tight price grid, there will be great quality, but through different fabrics. There might be more prints, a play of technology, and instead of the heavy embroidery there will be intricate thread work. We are also reinventing our techniques internally to fit them into the price point we hope to promise in different ranges. Some incredible fabrics are being made that are both light and breathable, so we are working towards sourcing them for the same.

Has premium ethnic wear evolved or changed amid the pandemic?

Well, as awful as it may sound, the pandemic gave us something that I think we all had lost — time. I can speak for myself here because it forced me to stay in the same house for six months and gave me time; it allowed stillness. I have never done that, and therefore, as a consequence, I had a lot of time to think, evaluate and re-assess, much like most of us. This has affected my fashion direction at many levels because the focus is now on what we need, how we can honour the planet. There will be many fundamental shifts in our behaviour, in how we consume, etc., which will reflect in the quality of what we pick and how we shop.

It's also funny how the pandemic has taken some weight off of the brides. They are no longer under the pressure of a red-carpet-like look or having to worry about being noticed by three thousand people in a stadium. They can now just pause and be themselves, much like how it should have been, anyway. The focus has shifted heavily on the quality of work, how a person feels with her garment's fit, and a more extensive, liberal say on the colour palette. Because, once you understand how incredible an outfit has made you feel, it is then that you find multiple ways to use and re-use it.

The fashion world has seen two phases: Pre-Covid times when social media had very little impact on a designer’s sales and Covid times when everything is about digital presence. How have these changes impacted the industry?

Consumption patterns have drastically changed. We are going back to our origins of focusing more on quality and less on quantity. Since the reopening, we have seen a drastic shift in what customers want. They now only want quality more than quantity (in bling). What people want to wear is becoming better because they are focusing on the images they look forward to creating with people who matter the most to them. People are starting to pare down because it feels right. This shift also allows us to go back to looking at the long-term sustainability of crafts and craftspeople. High-quality products last you a lifetime and it is in the hands of us designers to help you find ways to reuse and pair these products in a way that you can repeat them on different occasions.

Another aspect that I feel will change and needs to change will be the sense of overall security people feel about themselves. The way we look at Social Media and platforms like Instagram have changed and will continue to change. Once you are more secure in who you are and confident in yourself, one wouldn’t care anymore if they are found wearing the same thing again. You will happily wear the same thing and be photographed 10 times because it is a quality product and something that sparks joy within you.

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