A passion for fashion
Reham El-Adawi, , Saturday 7 Apr 2018
Indian fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani talks to Reham El-Adawi about the keys to his success

The grand finale of the Sixth India by the Nile Festival was an opulent fashion show this year, presented by Mumbai-born Indian fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani and taking place in the gardens of the Indian ambassador’s residence in Zamalek.

It was Tahiliani’s first visit to Egypt and his first fashion show in the country.

Tahiliani has worked to continue India heritage of the draped form in fashion despite the changes that have taken place in textiles and technologies over recent years.

India’s answer to European designer Karl Lagerfeld, he has gained recognition for designing Indian-influenced apparel referencing modern Western silhouettes. He caters to contemporary styles, while keeping in mind utility and lifestyle factors and aiming to be up to date while retaining his Indian heritage.

At the Zamalek show, Tahiliani showed off his skills through a dynamic and interactive show that included ancient civilisations and the modern metropolis, history and the future, drapes to disco dresses, bridal couture and much more.

“Today’s show is about my definition of India’s new fashions and how we can combine the past and the present. The purpose of my brand is to give our crafts a contemporary voice. For me, fashion works at many different levels,” Tahiliani said.

He presented 26 designs shown off by two Indian models and a set of Egyptians. The show offered a diversity of styles for women and men inspired by the Indian heritage but also modern, light-weight, practical, comfortable and elegant. It included sari-inspired evening gowns, sometimes with handmade embroidery using materials such as silk, lace, and chiffon, as well as velvet embroidered capes.


The colours included white, beige, silver, gold and blue. In addition to a group of transparent gowns for women, the show included menswear for the evening embroidered with silver and gold thread. All the accessories and shoes were created by Tahiliani.

Although he is known as a versatile designer producing lines including accessories and prêt-a-porter clothes, he is perhaps best known for his bridal couture lines. He rose to fame in 1995 when socialite Jemima Khan wore one of his outfits for her wedding with international Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan.

The grand finale of the Cairo show showed off a spectacular bridal gown in gold with fine handmade embroidery studded with Swarovski diamonds.

After completing his primary education at the Doon Boarding School in Dehradun, India, in 1980, Tahiliani joined St Stephen’s College in Delhi.

He went to the US for his higher education and graduated from Vassar University in New York in economics.

He finished his Masters degree in business administration at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School in the US.

Although he says he was “born for fashion”, he was obliged to study business to realise his father’s wishes. He “could have had a heart attack had I refused,” he said, laughing.

Tahiliani then opened India’s first multi-designer store, Ensemble, in 1987 in Mumbai and set off a revolution in the country’s fashion industry.

The store was an instant success, and Tahiliani, still untrained, started sketching out his own line before going to New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology in 1991.

After his return to India, he relocated his business to Delhi. His work has now been showcased from Milan to London, and he is one of the founding members of India’s fashion week and the Fashion Design Council of India. He also works with famous Bollywood stars such as Katrina Kaif, Aishwarya Rai, and Kareena Kapoor.


“I am not very much concerned if movie stars wear my gowns or not, because most of them don’t have a special style of their own. Stylists dress them up,” he said.

On asking him if he was planning a store outside India, he answered, almost without thinking, Dubai. However, he also said that his short stay in Cairo had encouraged him to come back and to consider showing more of his designs in Egypt.

“Egypt” would be the name of his upcoming summer collection, he said, adding that he would start sketching after finishing his visit to the Egyptian Museum and going down to Luxor and Aswan. “I believe Africa is the most important part of the world for any designer, and the people of Africa are very connected to the land,” he said.

Referencing his future plans, Tahiliani said he would be targeting the huge middle-class customer base. “I want to make fashion more accessible,” he added.

“I am unique because of my curiosity, and I don’t work for money or to be famous or for stars to wear my designs. I have a passion for fashion, and my one aim is to present new interpretations of the Indian heritage. I also work hard under pressure. I dedicate my life to the craft,” he said.

Asked for his advice to aspiring fashion designers, Tahiliani said “first of all, they have to be strong in their own country before going abroad. It is a very tough industry, and costs can become very high. Public relations are crucial to make people know about them.

They have to be patient and to have a clear point of view. There must also be their own finger print on their clothes based on their cultural heritage and clear strategic thinking.”

*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly