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April 18, 2018

The Starting Point: Tina Tahiliani Parikh On The Business Of Fashion

Text by Shubham Ladha

Tina Tahiliani Parikh talks about the impact of digitalisation on the fashion industry and why art and commerce must necessarily coexist for an haute symphony

Having helmed Ensemble as executive director for three decades now, Tina Tahiliani Parikh is a pioneer in the field of fashion retail in India. As an active player in the Indian fashion scene, she has witnessed the evolution of the business through its good, bad and the ugly. She talks about the status quo of the business of fashion in present-day India.

Excerpts from an interview….

“The industry’s undergone a 180-degree shift since I entered it.”
When I started, the industry was at a very nascent stage. If I had to make the transition today, it would be a lot harder because the stakes are much higher and the pressure’s much more.

As for the evolution of fashion, it’s totally undergone a 180-degree shift from when I entered the industry. In those days, it was approached like an art form. It’s nearly become a different industry with the kind of intervention that’s happened digitally. The whole consumer base is so much larger now, and the influence of celebrity dressing is so much more. Designers too have a lot of different pressures on them.

“If the art was taken out of the business, there would be no fashion industry.”
Although fashion in India might not have the kind of labelling and the publicity as it does in the West, Indians are no fools. Many of the techniques today are actually picked up from the past but used in a more contemporary way. Art and commerce can, and will, coexist. Of course, there’s a very strong marketing element that’s come into the business in the last decade or so, with the explosion of media, both offline and online. Why would anyone patronise a fashion designer in this day and age if they didn’t bring something to the table that was individualistic, well-thought-out or original? Designers will agree that the compulsions of the industry are very fierce and swift. There hasn’t been any great recognition given to our industry by the government, like there has been maybe in some other countries. Designers have to deal with suddenly being subject to excise, GST and demonetisation while no great retail infrastructure has been created.

“I see the democratisation of fashion as both positive and negative.”
People in every small town now have access to fashion, which is great. However, people are also getting so influenced by celebrities that, maybe, in some way, they aren’t thinking for themselves or aren’t using their own voices. While it’s an interesting phase and access is a great thing, it remains to be seen how it will all play out. It has also affected the way we run Ensemble. We reach out to our clientele through social and digital media a lot. Since there are so many new customers entering the fray, the starting point of our dialogue is about what they see on social media.

“Very often, fashion has to do with an idea.”
Fashion has to deal with a lot of sociological implications in terms of how a society is evolving. Both influence each other. I think all designers have their commercial sides and lines, but I do look at it as an art form. In many cases there is an increasing lack of originality in fashion. Then again, we all reach a certain low point from where creativity has to rise anew. Different designers are on different journeys. I think that the designers who really make an effort to create fashion as an art form always get recognised, even commercially. The market is that savvy.

“I think it is extremely relevant for fashion to have a dialogue with social change in today’s times.”
Fashion has been a mirror of social change — right from the time when Coco Chanel asserted that women did not have to be bound up in crinolines and introduced the easy-wear little black dress, to when women started power dressing using masculine silhouettes! Fashion paralleled the feminist movement. In the world of fashion, ideas and phenomena continue to bounce off each other in many ways, though in which I don’t see a specific direction we might be heading. We’re still a very young industry and there’s a lot of thoughtful experimentation going on.

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