Tarun Tahiliani and his unwavering commitment to modernise India’s rich textile heritage

In an interview with Bazaar India, the designer talks about cultural fusion, timeless elegance, and the role of artisans.

Harper's Bazaar India

Every single time I step into Tarun Tahiliani’s atelier, I witness a sense of calm, pride, and joy among the people inhabiting this space. I guess because, at its core, the atelier’s ethos revolves around the fundamental principle of treating every individual within its walls with unwavering respect and equality. As the couturier says, people should feel happy when they create these beautiful pieces; if the creator doesn’t do it with joy, then what’s the point? 

As I make my way up to the second floor, the larger-than-life veteran greets me with a welcoming grin, playfully christening me a “fashion chameleon”. His innate understanding of the way Indian women seamlessly transition from casual morning wear to glamorous evening attire paints a vivid picture of the myriad choices we relish.

Rasna Bhasin, Editor, Bazaar India

Sitting down with the designer himself, Tarun Tahiliani—affectionately known as TT—I ask him to describe himself in just three words. “Stoic, compulsive, constantly dreaming,” he replies with a twinkle in his eye. These words mirror his design process, which he characterises as visceral, integrative, and process-driven. This fusion of influences gives life to the exquisite creations he’s renowned for. 

Amid scattered sketches and swatches, a reference catches his eye—a picture of his sister’s (Tina Tahiliani Parikh) house help draped in a sari. This image has inspired one of his skirt designs. The designer’s attention to the minutest details consistently ignites his creativity and fuels his imagination.

TT’s design process begins with a blank canvas, where the art of draping takes centre stage. Driven by this technique, he crafts timeless pieces, which include the iconic draped saris he is celebrated for. By blending elegant simplicity with traditional Indian textiles, Tarun brings forth silhouettes that are both sophisticated and comfortable. When I call him the ‘master draper of Indian fashion’, he sneaks in a wink. 

What sets the couturier apart is his profound impact on Indian fashion. He recalls a time when India shifted from rejecting export apparel to embracing couture within its borders. TT not only emphasises on the sartorial details but also aligns with the wearer’s lifestyle and culture. This is how he’s transformed the industry, all while giving birth to pieces that resonate on a personal level.

His path embodies innovation, evolution, and an unwavering commitment to modernise India’s rich textile heritage. As he continues to create while seamlessly weaving tradition with contemporary elements, he remains an inspiration for both established and aspiring designers.

At the core of Tahiliani’s creations is a deep appreciation for exceptional Indian craftmanship, particularly embroidery. Drawing a connection between craftsmanship and timelessness, the stalwart designer traces the roots of Indian embroidery to Islamic influences. His exploration uncovers the meditative process that breathes life into intricate embroideries. The maverick paints a vivid picture of a country where time seems to stand still, nurturing a deliberate, meticulous approach to design. This approach counters the fast-paced fashion industry and its trends, prioritising longevity over fleeting styles.

TT’s commitment extends to the artisans who infuse his designs with life. He champions a flat hierarchy, valuing each artisan equally. Stepping into his atelier, you’ll find artisans from diverse disciplines collaborating harmoniously. This approach leads to more cohesive and authentic outcomes.

Beyond designs, he is dedicated to improving the lives of artisans. The couturier is also establishing a training centre to empower women by teaching them embroidery and tailoring skills, preserving cultural heritage, and instilling pride in craftsmanship.

Diving into his creative process, Tahiliani sheds light on the journey of bringing couture looks to life. Collaborating with stylists, he merges his artistic vision with aesthetic coherence. His shows strike a balance between tradition and modernity, resonating with audiences worldwide.

Model in a Tarun Tahiliani creation

TT’s devotion to Indian craftsmanship has revolutionised fashion, sparking discussions about cultural fusion, timeless elegance, and the role of artisans. His legacy of respect, sustainability, and creativity continues to evolve, leaving a global impact on fashion.

As Tarun discusses couture and luxury, it becomes clear that, for him, it is not just about appearances. True luxury lies in how a garment feels against the skin, much like the comfort of a pair of well-fitted pants or shoes. He recognises that understanding personal preferences is key. This philosophy drives Tarun and it is also reflected in the pieces he creates.

The journey of this artistic genius embodies relentless curiosity and boundless enthusiasm. At 62, his passion for learning is undiminished, a testament to the fact that in the realm of creativity, there is always room for growth and exploration. As he continues to push boundaries and shape the fashion landscape, TT’s story serves as a reminder that true artistry is an endless journey.

Looking ahead, the designer’s world is abuzz with excitement. This year, he’s all set to launch his book—a testament to his journey and creative philosophy. And the excitement doesn’t end there. Next year, his work will be displayed at a first-of-its-kind showcase exhibition in the Asian Civilisations Museum, which promises to be a celebration of his legacy, innovation, and the artistry that has left an indelible mark on the world of fashion not just in India but around the globe.