When I came back to India (from the USA; he studied there for a year) over two decades ago, my first challenge was to change Indian preconceptions. For instance, I like simple tailoring, but from an Indian point of view, I did too much beige, khaki and toned-down colours. Indians love colour, and mostly wanted shocking pink, orange and lime green. For me, that was too ‘costume’. So, I astutely took the best of both the east and west, and came up with something unique. India is the embroidery capital of the world, and couture is more about hand embroidery, not so much about shape and form. I just started marrying this aspect with ready-to-wear techniques of pattern and fit. Previously, no one knew how to cut a pattern or a sleeve.
Ten years ago, people were simpler, and even then, they were more used to going to tailors to make their clothes. Today, no one wants to go to a tailor, unless it’s someone who is specialised in doing something. Also, people are much more brand-conscious now. Back then, India was coming out of socialism, and if someone had a Chanel bag, it was a big thing. Everyone was thinking and buying local at that time. So, very few people could even afford to go abroad, especially with the kind of foreign exchange regulations that existed then, forget shopping there. It was the far end or faded reminiscence of the Gandhian values. Top industrialists drove in ambassadors; a Mercedes was a big deal. Today, it’s a different culture.
Unlike earlier, Indians now understand western principles of cut and construct, fit and finish, and designers have to deliver. As Indians become wealthier, their standards are more exacting, and the industry is gearing up for just that. India’s propensity to consume is gaining an international audience, and this is changing the competitive landscape.
Indians, who live here, are on the cusp of a new way, which is a wonderful fusion of the two worlds we inhabit. This, for me, is the next big thing, where a true confluence in ideas results in a contemporary Indian style that is not completely ‘ethnic’ or ‘western’, but is a true synthesis, and has a global identity and relevance.
I think that we come from such a vibrant culture of layering, whether it is through simple elements like tattoos, dots, black threads, kohl in the eyes or fresh flowers, that for me, there is no reason why we should be minimalistic. Even if one wore the simplest white fabric with the right drape, it has a kind of body that very few couture garments can have, if someone knows how to drape them properly. No one can stop the cycle of life and talent. The old order has paved the way for new. One must embrace and encourage this.
There is no doubt that fashion has progressed by quantum leaps and bounds in the last 10 years. There are fashion weeks, trends, glossy magazines, some multi-brand boutiques of note, and a thriving handloom scene now. Designers have started their own stores, and brands have been established. Yet, I have this sinking feeling every time I sit at an airport or at a mall that somehow women looked more elegant 15 years ago.
I feel the humble sari, which has been tossed off for the light dress, did much more to soothe the Indian curves. While clothes are more practical today, something of feminine grace is lost. That authenticity is missing as ‘aspirational’ Indians move from juicy couture to ‘jewelled’ Indian couture in a breath, devoid of any style of their own, which everyone seemed to have, before there was ‘fashion’. This was when the humble drape caressed the curve, which I now have to go to the Kumbh Mela to see. Is pop culture the end of civilisation as I knew it; I wonder.
(Tarun Tahiliani has been in the business of fashion for almost 25 years)
(Photos: HT photos, Getty images)