Tarun Tahiliani stands tall as one of India’s foremost designers. He is best known for combining traditional Indian textiles and craftsmanship with modern design. His celebrity clientele includes the likes of Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif and Shilpa Shetty. Sister Tina runs Ensemble, Tarun’s brainchild and India’s first ever multi designer store in Mumbai.
Tina shows us the other side of Tarun, that only a sister could know!
I’ve often wondered, which of you is the older one?
If Tarun heard you ask that question you would get a big hug from him. I am four years younger, but he worries that he looks so much older than me!
Were you close as siblings while growing up?
We lost our mother when we were quite young. I was 12 and he was 16. We naturally grew closer because of that. He was an incredibly protective and nurturing elder brother.
Could you see a designer in him even then? When you were growing up?
He went off to Doon School to study. When we would go for Founder’s Day, my brother would always win the prize for the best Art.
And the art was...
He would create paintings. They would always be of women, and each woman would be accessorized to the last detail, jewellery et al
Any other hints that he would channel his creativity towards clothes?
When we were still sharing a room, I would often see him sketching in his sketch book. He would draw ballet dancers. They would be perfectly dressed in tutus that he would painstakingly colour. It was obvious he was artistic, but of course no one guessed that he would take to designing then. It was not even a considered option for anyone to take up seriously .
But he did love dressing up his sketches and paintings...
In fact he went further. He would take me to buy fabric, and then come with me to the tailor and explain how the dress should be made. Those days we went to our darzis and got clothes made, and he was always at the helm of such expeditions.
I remember when he finished school, he went to the US, it was his first trip. When he returned, half his suitcase was full of clothes for me. That was not all. He made me wear them, and took photos of each garment, after making sure I had shoes and earrings to match.
Despite all this there was no question of him studying to be a designer?
Definitely not. Those days there was no alternative to a mainstream career. In fact he went abroad to continue his study and joined Vassar, a liberal arts college, then moved to Wharton. He was a responsible person, and doing his duty in taking up more serious studying.
He completed Wharton and came back to join our grandfather’s firm. It was an engineering firm, and as my father was by then then Chief of Naval Staff, someone had to run it. So Tarun took it on.
Continues on the next page
Engineering firm! How did he manage it?
He took it on in 1985, by 1987, the machine tools showroom at Lion’s Gate was turned into Ensemble [an apparel store]! Ensemble was opened mainly as a retail store. He decided he would have one line, but stock other designers. It was not easy, nobody shopped anywhere but at Breach Candy then, the area where he opened his store was industrial; there was nothing connected with fashion anywhere near it.
Today, Tarun is in the forefront, counted among the top Indian designers. How do you think it has changed him?
Well it has and it hasn’t. He is a very busy man, of course. But I think the most important fact about him is he is very grounded. My father has been a great influence on him, and he is very much his father’s son. So that remains a constant, whatever else in his life changes.
How do you think he manages to handle the lifestyle being a designer forces on him? I mean the press, the public expect him to be one sort of social person...
I think at one point he was caught up in it, but he has always been somewhat of a different kind of person. I mean he derives pleasure out of walking along the Gateway and striking up a conversation with someone who might have an interesting point of view, or seem interesting to him. He is bored with people in the box, he seeks inspiration in the unusual—In architecture, art, in the history of the people of our country.
I would not call him edgy, he’s a romantic, and the styling, the material, everything matters. The mang tikka, the drapes of silk versus khadi are of importance to him. He delights in the Rs 800 khadi sari as much as a Rs 1 crore necklace. They hold the same fascination as products.
But he attend quite a few parties, and does throw lavish and wonderfully planned parties himself!
I think he goes through phases. He’s not really into parties, and even his own parties have been few and far between, there were none the last two fashion weeks. He is going through a thoughtful phase now I think, taking stock, understanding things in his creative scene, his life. I think every creative person goes through these phases.
Tell us a little about him as a family man. As a husband and father.
He is happily married. I prefer not to comment beyond that. And of course he loves his children and will do whatever he can for giving them a good life and setting them on their own ways to success.
You travel a lot together, are in close contact over work. How does working so closely together impact your families? Do they feel left out?
We do have some regrets. For letting our work lives become so all consuming... we have to make an effort on the personal front. Personal relationships do take a back seat. Our father lives in Gurgaon, fiercely independent, he lives alone, and I try to take time to spend with him when I can am when I am in Delhi. So does he.
But we make the effort. Often we go on holidays together, both families and all the children, his boys and my kids. It’s more difficult now, as the children’s schedules are all different now, family vacations are ruled out for the present.
However, I am right now buying trekking shoes. I am going with my family to the Everest Base Camp. It should be fun!