August 28, 2021 Asmita Aggarwal

Crafting Traditions

Tarun Tahiliani makes a plea for craftspeople, as his chikankari, aari and appliqué offer the distinct flavour of made in India luxe

By Asmita Aggarwal

“Functionality” is what’s going to make the new world spin, and if history is a teacher, Chanel is eternal because she knew what women needed, even though Karl Lagerfeld may have made great films! These are some of the words of wisdom that Tarun Tahiliani is known to impart, when you have an honest tête-à-tête with him.

His brand’s narrative has been evolving, as everyone sat at home through another lockdown, but a lot of these stories began even before the lockdown. “Our biggest need is that we have to provide craftsmen with excellent quality work that would keep the units and them secure, no matter what happens,” says Tarun.

The entire approach to the collection was extremely artisanal, as he has been moving to finer and lighter embroideries. And every technique along the way, since he had the luxury of time, has been done by hand from the drawing, paintings to the embroideries. The only exception is that in some cases he has used digital printings and has brought back screen printing for the first time. “I want lightness, shape and clothes that are likely to be worn again because we need that for the planet. In bridal, we offer a service where we teach girls how to covert one bridal piece into three or four outfits,” he adds.

The Chikankari collection came from his visit to Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, Agra in February which blew him away, typically he takes a lot of photographs, and creates a collage, to see how they speak to him. There is an entire process that follows from developing his prints, on which, the techniques will be placed.

The pandemic has taught him that there is no better place for him to be, except at work, because it stabilises any insecurities and provides both focus and great positivity. Between meetings and making sure people are doing meaningful work, TT has also elevated the brand’s purpose, far from the normal perceived superficiality of fashion. “It is so much deeper — the craftspersons we have employed have such an important role in history and our culture and their livelihood is the whole fabric of society,” he explains.

And as the world feels like it is falling apart, this is the most important thing for us to focus on, he believes. “We shot a lot more, we did films from last July, did a digital fashion show, we have done many stories, many vignettes and we have tried to increase our engagement with people who are relevant and who can help us in this endeavour,” he says.

For many, it is difficult to tell a story in five minutes, especially when you are not a cinematographer, but the advantage of the digital medium is that you can shoot and reshoot. “It is becoming more and more cost effective, however I have always said that you can’t critique a show by watching it on TV because you can’t tell the difference between polyester and silk. Luxury has to be felt; it is not something that you can watch on your little phone. But this is the new reality of now, so we have started doing it hoping that we can return to the more classic ways,” he adds.

“Rangrez” is an ode to chikankari, fine aari, as he moves to a more flat and matte look where weaving is done of strips of short coloured fabrics and borders that then get cut out and appliquéd, which he admits is going to be the mainstay of the studio. Soon there will be 6 to 7 principle collections that will be available at any time, updated season after season.

“I have always been a fan of repurposing and we have been showing people how to wear the clothes in different ways and also how to do simple coordinates as this is truly the future,” he adds.

The fashion film was shot in a neighbouring three-storey, air conditioned warehouse, as the capital in July was still coming out of the pandemic and the team decided not to travel anywhere. It was shot against the backdrop that was reminiscent of the collection and the techniques TT had used therein. “The big challenge is that of course we have this huge pandemic on and for sales we can’t get the energy of getting people in, with us who normally come to see our shows,” he explains.

For Tarun it is always about a stream of consciousness because no idea exists in its entirety alone. Much like the collection, the man behind the label, rolls from the past to the present, from dream to reality, from inspiration to influence to inflection and through this process come these beautiful clothes.

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