The Journey of 4 Dream Bridal Couturiers: Tarun Tahiliani
Taking The Weight Off
Tarun Tahiliani was the man behind India’s first multi-brand store, Ensemble, which came up in 1987, around the time when Rohit Khosla started to foster talent in the Indian fashion industry. It was only a few years later that Tahiliani went off to the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, to study fashion design, launching his own label thereafter. His early work, however, has little resemblance to what he does now.
“There was deconstruction, trailing unfinished edges and fishtail lehngas. He was always the king of drapes, but he also used heat pleated fabrics, rope embroidery and couching, and other techniques that were almost folksy, but you could see them being worn with jeans,” says fashion writer Varun Rana. “It was a mixed bag. I think he then sat down and questioned himself about what direction he wanted to take, and the overarching theme he wanted to adopt.”
And thus emerged Tahiliani the bridal couturier, though it was not the direction he had first chosen. “I became a retailer, and then I wanted to design, and then I got pushed from a simpler aesthetic into bridal,” Tahiliani recalls. “I didn’t know embroidery; I came from something else. In my first collection, I did not have one embroidered piece. So I had to learn it. But then after six to eight years, I began to feel that everything looked technically incorrect to me, especially when the embroideries got too heavy.”
An early manifestation of the quest for lightness was the creation of the second veil. “I could never understand how you could take a piece of embroidered fabric, and drape it over the head from the waist, and back again, because it always looked too heavy. I saw too many brides with migraines,” Tahiliani says. This he solved by using chiffon, net, and now, very fine Italian tulle, which can be embroidered to great effect.
According to Rana, Tahiliani’s obsession with lightness meant he approached it as a problem to be solved from both an aesthetic as well as a technical angle. “The innovation for him lies in the under-structure of the garment, in the choice of fabric — whether he uses more modern man-made fabrics like tulle, net, organza, chiffon and georgette, rather than the traditional silks and taffetas, even though these are more apt for heavy embroideries. He was one of the first designers to take up Swarovski crystals in a big way, which replaced the need for traditional metallic sequins and zardozi. That itself made the overall weightage of the lehnga or sari lighter.” His creative evolution has also involved manifesting this idea of lightness in a colour palette of white, gold, pale pink, dusky rose and sunset-hued ombré.
But before he mastered the art of lightness, he succumbed to the conventionally seen orgy of embroidery, which led to lehngas being so heavy that Tahiliani remembers having to give suspenders to more than one bride. “When we started, we worked mostly on textiles, and we did ari, mirror work, aabla and mukaish, and in the late 2000s it exploded into a madness of weight,” Tahiliani says. But after seeing one bride’s lehnga falling off on the stage, and another weeping because she couldn’t walk in hers, he decided that enough was enough.
“If someone stands there in 25 to 30 kilos and can barely move, then it shows. We used to do a lot of zardozi, which we don’t use anymore since it’s too heavy, and there’s nothing I can do to make that light. It’s great for a carpet or a canopy, but zardozi is too stiff to put on to clothes, it’s not for a bride.” Instead, he uses a lot more resham, Swarovski crystals and especially gota, which delivers gold work without the weight.
Tahiliani also has an R&D department that works on the underlying-structure for garments, and on developing different types of crinolines. The newest ones, he says, are weightless and float on the body despite being embroidered.
Most importantly, his search for lightness also reflects the changing attitudes of brides. “Brides now have a greater awareness of themselves and they wear that as a jewel. Some of the young women I see are cool, and do their own thing. They are not here to project anything; they just want to look like themselves. Yes, they’ll get a make-up artist; yes, they’ll wear one amazing piece of jewellery. But they don’t burden their outfits with everything, including the kitchen sink. That is no longer beautiful.”
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