x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Classically Indian style with a contemporary twist

Tarun Tahiliani, one of India's biggest designers, talks about his life in fashion.

The fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani at Studio 8 in Dubai.
The fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani at Studio 8 in Dubai.

I was brought up to believe that you can't justify what you do just because you make money. Unfortunately a lot of the world has become like this. Everyone from my school went to Lehman Brothers but it wasn't my thing. I was at business school in the US and I came back and sold oil field equipment. I just thought I'm going to die if I do this for much longer.

I always sketched and drew and I loved the arts and textiles. And I had always had a thing for design and fashion, so we started by promoting Indian design and Indian designers. I noticed that all the Indian designers and all the beautiful things I saw abroad were never available in India. Everything used to be exported and I used to go and scream at them "you're still colonised! You only save the best for the white man!" So I started promoting Indian designers and saying to them you need to use all this but find a contemporary idiom or it's going to die out. It's going to become like Japan where they only wear western clothes.

I wanted to do very Indian things but with a contemporary twist. My fit is very international. Even a sari can fall like a beautiful gown. What I don't want to do is the trashy bling thing. That stuff is just shapeless and embroidered - it's really badly made. We have the Indian bridal collection and then the very contemporary collection, which is more resort-based and which you could wear over a bikini on holiday or to dinner. I really focus on the draping and construction and I use a lot of silk jersey, so it's super contemporary.

I'm Indian and I grew up in South Bombay, I studied at a Jesuit school and read Enid Blyton, so my collection is very cross-cultural. For a long time, when we started in fashion, Indians in London thought they were really superior because they lived abroad. But I always think the people in the home country have the best taste because they are the most connected to their culture. People abroad are disconnected. They will look at, say, a Bollywood film which is not necessarily a proper representation. It's someone's interpretation to sell to the masses and it's very often cheap chic. But that's changing now.

If you had landed in India 100 years ago by parachute, you'd be able to tell where you were by the way people draped fabric. The same piece of fabric was draped in a totally different way in the north, south, east and west. There was no construction. You and I would wear the same pants with a little drawstring at the back. Then, it was all about how a sari was draped. There were no hats; men draped turbans. India is about the draped form. Whatever we do, the historical nod is very important.

My own dress sense is very simple, very basic. I look at fabric and textiles all day. My cupboard is sadly very big because I have lots of different sizes. I am at the top of my yo-yo phase right now: it goes 34, 36, 38. I wear only natural fabrics that are comfortable. I could wear a uniform and be OK. As long as it's comfortable and beautifully tailored and has all these little details, I'm fine. It's always subtle, what I wear.

I see psychologically, as Indians become more secure, they stop trying to be western. Also Indian designers are giving them more contemporary things to wear because they don't have time to go to tailors. Our main market is India and, logically, our market is the Middle East because of the climate and the lifestyle. In London in winter, as much as you might love my designs, it's too cold. Indians, after independence, went backwards because we kept trying to be westernised. But it's much better to be Indian and true to yourself. When British people travel all over the world, they don't change their style. They might adapt but that's what makes the culture great. I wish that would work the same way in reverse. I'm really tired of seeing Indian women who bleach their hair blonde and wear blue contact lenses. It's just so naff. That kind of customer is not my kind of customer at all.

Tarun Tahiliani's collection is available at Studio 8, Jumeirah Beach Road, Dubai. Call 04 344 3934 or visit www.studio8.ae.