Tina Tahiliani Parikh On Reinventing Ensemble
What’s brewing at the new Ensemble?
“The revamped store is a celebration of India and not a stereotypical depiction of luxury. The design language is very 2016! We now have a new contemporary as well as a menswear space to which we have dedicated a lot of resources. So in addition to our old store, there’s wedding wear, experimental clothing, accessories and a bridal salon.”
What has been the most memorable moment in the boutique’s history?
“I think it’s right now, because we are in the middle of something really exciting, creatively. We are pushing new boundaries, in terms of the products, design and the way the interiors have been planned. I have never put so much thought into anything in my life! But, if I had to look back historically then my most electrifying moment would be when Shyamoli Varma walked the ramp at Ensemble’s first show in 1988. Our fashion shows were like Indian fashion weeks back then. At the time, we were so low on funds that we would have two shows on one night so that the models gave us a good rate and we could reuse the sets.”
How has Ensemble kept pace with changing consumer dynamics?
“We have been through many cycles. Bollywood has crept in. There was a difference between film stars and supermodels and it was the latter who were associated with fashion back in the day. The universe has extended hugely since, the experimental and discerning are hugely influenced by social media today. There are people who are probably doing this for the first time and need style advice, and that’s what we are very good at. One thing that makes me sad is that a lot of old families who used to wear exquisite textiles stopped doing so and instead starting wearing ‘designer’ clothes. But today there is a huge textile revival. I think that design and fashion in the early years were like art and then they went through the process of commercialisation. Now you might wear a high-street top with a designer skirt; you might wear it with your real diamonds but also with some costume jewellery.”
What does luxury mean to you?
“It’s when the process is more important than the end result…when something is created with a lot of integrity and feels very good to the touch. It can be an inexpensive handloom sari or pure sesame oil from Khadi Gram Udyog.”
How does fashion impact social change?
“Hugely! It is a vehicle of expression. What we saw in China was that they really rejected their past and embraced the new which is reflective of a sociological change in the country. So it is great that our designers have been sensitive enough to keep what is inherently our strength. Aneeth Arora has taken the angrakha worn by farmers in Gujarat and turned it into something that a contemporary Indian woman can wear. This is a social change where we are willing to take our past and modernise it, rather than reject it.”
Tell us about your personal style.
“It took me a lot of time to discover it. When I went to Ahmedabad, I was influenced by Calico Museum of Textiles and Asha Sarabhai’s work. The early work of Abraham & Thakore, Tarun and Anamika motivated me, along with the drapes and colours of India…also playing a part in my inspirations is the intrinsic style of the lady who works in my house, the way she drapes her sari and puts flowers in her hair. It was just about connecting with myself and finding what was important to me.”
What would we discover in your wardrobe?
“A lot of beige, ivory, black, reds and corals, and signature jewellery. I am also blessed to own some beautiful heirloom pieces, such as temple saris and jamawar shawls passed down from my mother and mother-in-law.”
What is the change you’ve witnessed in the business?
“Fashion today is moving very fast because of social media. Earlier, you saw a collection and waited six months for it to be out and now there is no such thing. But I haven’t seen anything earth-shatteringly new in a while. Although the customer base is growing it is a tough market to be in right now. I personally prefer a slightly slower pace where you can actually see the changes taking place but maybe I’m a dinosaur!”