Tarun Tahilani is a veteran Indian fashion designer and an interior designer, who is among one of the founding members of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI).
Tarun Tahilani was born in 1963 (approx), (age 59 years; as of 2022) in Mumbai. He attended Campion School in Mumbai and then The Doon School in Dehradun. In 1980, after completing school, he went to St. Stephens college in New Delhi to seek admission in an honours course. However, finding it uninteresting, he dropped the college and went to the US, where he studied economics at Vassar College for one year. He then went to the University of Pennsylvania to obtain a degree in business management from Wharton Business School.
Height (approx.): 5′ 8”
Weight (approx.): 80 kg
Hair Colour: Black (semi-bald)
Eye Colour: Black
Tarun Tahilani belongs to a Maharashtrian Sindhi family.
Parents & Siblings
Tarun Tahilani’s mother, Jaswanti Tahiliani, was the first women engineer in Mumbai, who studied at Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute. His father, Admiral R H Tahilani, was a flag officer in the Indian Navy. His father’s different postings took his family to different parts of the country. When he was at Doon school in Dehradun, he got the news of his mother suffering from cancer. He said in an interview,
While I was at Doon School, Mommy succumbed to cancer. I never saw her being administered chemotherapy. She was cheerful till the end, and when it happened, it happened suddenly. I recall receiving a call from Bombay and my headmaster telling me that my mother was not feeling well. She was in a coma when I arrived. Two days later, everything was over. For four years, I could still smell her perfume in the cupboard. “
After some time, his father remarried to Meera. While talking with the reporter of Times of India, Tarun Tahilani said,
My stepmother, Meera, is a wonderful lady. Dad is happy and I am happy for him.”
He has a sister, Tina Tahilani Parikh, who is the executive director of Ensemble.
Wife & Children
Tarun’s wife, Sailaja (Sal) Tahilani, is a model and co-founder of Ensemble. Tarun met Sailaja when he was studying in the US. He calls his first meeting with Sal to be Love at first sight. In an interview, he shared his love story and said,
Sal was an economics student at the University of Pennsylvania. Luckily, for me, my best friend, Sanjana, happened to be in the same university. I used to visit Sanjana off and on and through her, I got introduced to Sal. We hit it off immediately. When we returned to India, we didn’t waste time and we tied the knot.”
While talking about his wife Sal he said, we both give each other a lot of space. He added,
Sal and I have a modern outlook and give each other a lot of space. Our married life is getting rosier day by day. Being born and bred abroad, her values are Indian.”
Tarun has two sons, Anand and Jahan Tahilani. While talking with the news reports about his sons he said,
Anand and Jahan are not interested in fashion. They are just normal kids, who after coming home from school, play cricket and football all day long and all night, if possible.”
He belongs to the Sindhi Hindu family.
After returning to India from the US, Tarun joined his family business of manufacturing oil exploration equipment. He was engaged in this business for some time but he soon felt bored and realised that it wasn’t something he wanted to do. He then stepped out of his family business and wanted to start something of his own. He shared in an interview the struggles he faced after marriage. He said,
We were broke till opportunity came- a -calling. If I and Sal were short on anything after marriage, it was money. She was not working and i was earning very little. We could not even pay for our cook, we were absolutely broke.”
It is after then, his wife Sal started modelling and was chosen for Pierre Cardin show in Bombay. Tarun accompanied his wife to the fashion show. On this, Tarun said,
It was the first fashion show I attended. But when I saw it, I was completely blown away! When I returned home, I started sketching.”
When Sal modelled for Vimal in Jaipur, Tarun accompanied her and he met Rohit Khosla who was assisting the shoot. He considered Rohit Khosla to be an inspiring force, who guided him in building Ensemble. In an interview, he said,
Rohit Khosla was an inspiring force. Around then, when Indian dressing sensibilities shifted to contemporary outfits, the idea of Ensemble took shape into my mind. And Rohit was very much a part of the beginning of Ensemble. Fashion-wise, I was a Bholaram! Rohit took Sal and me to the best fashion stores abroad. I didn’t anything about fashion and was like a bholaram at those stores. The western influence is very much there at Ensemble with high ceilings, open settings, and an unhurried display of clothes. But people were not used to this and a common question was, Why your store is so empty?”
His designs were first worn by Jemima Khan, wife of Imran Khan (Prime Minister of Pakistan). After this, he was noticed by everyone. Sharing the story behind it, he once said,
I had made a custard chiffon handpainted kurta for Jemima’s sister, who lived in India as a painter. Before I knew what was happening, Jemima wore the outfit for her wedding with Imran Khan and I was flooded with calls.”
Tarun Tahilani established Ensemble in 1987 with a collection of his own, after getting technical help from a couple who made clothes for an American designer. Still, he was not trained in fashion designing. In an interview, he said,
After establishing Ensemble I was on a magazine cover! But I was not trained to be a designer, so I decided to do a few courses in fashion designing. That was 1991. After Tina, who was in California then, returned to Bombay. I handed the keys of Ensemble to her and headed for FIT in New York. Once back, I shifted base to Delhi.”
The ensemble is India’s first multi-designer luxury studio that was set up by the Tahilanis and Rohit Khosla. Tarun said in an interview that he wanted to establish Ensemble because even after 40 years of independence, we were sending our best products abroad. He further added,
We discussed the need for a design house that acknowledged quality, promoted Indian designers, gave them a voice and the freedom to express themselves. There was no dearth of talent but a majority of Indian designers then were working for international labels. We wanted to rectify that. In December 1987, we started Ensemble’s flagship store at Lion Gate in the heritage quarter of south Mumbai.”
In its initial days, Ensemble featured the designs of Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla, Rohit Khosla, Anuradha Mafatlal, Neil Bieff, Anita Shivdasani and Sunita Kapoor’s label Anaya as well as Tarun Tahiliani’s own label, Ahilian. Now, Ensemble features the designs by Tarun Tahiliani, Sabyasachi, Manish Malhotra and other coveted labels. In recent years, it has also started stocking clothes and accessories by South Asian designers. Ensemble has stores both in Delhi and Mumbai. Even after 27 years, Tarun Tahilani’d Ensemble has neither lost its appeal nor its exclusivity. “Ensemble’s biggest challenge in the future will be to remain relevant and reflect the best of Indian fashion,” says Tina Tahilani Parikh.
Tarun Tahilani Design Studio and Flagship Store
He founded his design studio in 1995 in New Delhi. The Tarun Tahilani studio creates couture, ready-to-wear, which are Indian in their sensibility and International in appeal. His collections have an international look that looks very graceful. Tarun launched his flagship store in January 2017 at Qutab Garden in New Delhi’s historic Mehrauli area. His store essentially showcases the Indian elements that don’t seem oppressively ethnic. It took Tahiliani over seven months from design to execution and designing the space to his exact specifications. Describing his store, Tarun says,
When you walk into my space, I want you to know you’re entering my mind.”
Tarun Tahilani flagship store in Hyderabad is a perfect example of India modern. His store largely displays ready to wear, occasion wear, and couture on three different levels. Tarun said in an interview,
Design circles call Hyderabad, Punjab of the south. People like to dress up and live fabulously. It’s a huge market for us and I like uncluttered spaces. And it made sense to be on a street where other designers are.”
Tarun Tahilani: The Interior Designer
His passion for designing led him to the field of architecture and interior designing. He had designed various boutique hotels, secondary and holiday homes in Goa. He has his own website (www.tahilanihomes.com) where he had showcased all his designs. Recently, he had introduced an interior and architecture division, Ahilian Homes that will work closely with several HNIs, institutions, and builders. Tarun said in an interview,
When you do your own projects, you do what you want. It’s like doing prêt, it has a lot more attitude. I always wanted to be an architect, but could not because “back then you needed physics and chemistry, and I couldn’t understand either”. With my son Jahan on board as the company’s CEO, I am proud to create homes that combine Indian craftsmanship with “principles of light, air and technology”, the epitome of my philosophy of India Modern.”
He discussed his future projects with the reporter of The Hindu and said that they are working on a beautiful home for Telugu actor Cheeranjivi in Hyderabad. He is also working on a hotel in Goa and a bigger clothing store in Hyderabad. Tarun Tahilani had collaborated with the architecture firm SP+A design to create the Glass Villa in Goa, with the interior architectural team run by his own design house, Ahilia Homes.
On Completion of 25 Years in Fashion Industry
Sharing about his experience of 25 years in the fashion industry he said that still, I have to learn a lot of things. It is just the beginning and I have to go long way. On the day of the celebration, his show ‘Infinite’ showcased 25 models representing his equal number of years in the industry. He said in an interview,
As we come to our 25th year, again I had to be pushed by my PR and a few other people because on my own, I would just go on to 26. The thing about working is that you’re learning every day and that is what keeps me going. We are here celebrating the 25th, and more importantly, what has to be our role moving forward!”
After this celebration, when an interviewer asked Tarun that if there is anything he would like to change about his work. He replied that he loves his space and working environment. He only needs to be more organised. Also, he wishes to have a business partner because all successful designers do have one.
- The renowned fashion designer Tarun Tahilani landed into controversy when a social media influencer, Dr Tanya, alleged that officials at Tarun Tahilani’s store body-shamed her. She shared on her Instagram handle that how the manager at the store body-shamed her. She said in an interview,
I didn’t feel unwelcome because of the time issue. I was never made aware of that. It was the way their salesperson looked at me up and down and asked, “oh, ‘you’ are getting married?” as if I am inherently unmarriageable. It was the way they kept saying “we don’t have this in ‘your size’.” It was the general disinterest in showing me around. It was the way that, as they led me out of the store, the salesperson said ‘maybe this outfit would make you look more in shape.’ These were the things that made me feel unwelcome, shamed and unfairly commented on.”
Later, in reply to this accusation, Tarun Tahilani spoke with E-times and narrated his side of the story. He shared,
I have shot with different women with different body types over the years. We have designed clothes for specially-abled people, done gay weddings. As a brand, we have always promoted inclusivity. So if I and my brand are being accused of fat-shaming someone, I have no words left. Moreover, We have clearly told our store people to be honest with our customers. You will not sell them things that will not look good on them. If you can’t do it, tell them, don’t take the orders because you are trying to meet a target and then tomorrow you let people down, it is not cool. If someone thinks that it is fat-shaming, then I would like to tell them that we are a service industry and not therapists.”
- Tarun Tahilani had received a letter from Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) to withdraw all he skirts from the market stores that featured pictures of Sikh holy symbols and visuals of five holy men (Panj Pyare) which are not permitted. The controversy started when a Sikh woman, Satvinder Kaur noticed that the skirts were being sold by a shopping mall for Rs 9,900. She informed DSGMC that she purchased a skirt that has the brand name Tarun Tahilani. The DSGMC president told MAIL TODAY,
Sikh religion does not permit painting and printing of the pictures of their gurus, the five holy men and the religious symbol on apparel such as skirts or shirts. The designer was categorically conveyed that the printing of religious symbols on a cloth or a ready-to-wear outfit is highly objectionable and against the Sikh tenets. The picture of old man playing cards printed on a skirt along with the religious symbols is in bad taste.”
The letter issued by DSGMC gave a 15 days time to Tarun’s company to withdraw the skirts from the market. The letter mentioned,
In view of the above, you are requested to kindly call back all such skirts from the outlets of the markets to which you have sold them for further selling to the public within 15 days without any further delay. You may kindly note that in case you fail to withdraw these skirts from the market, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee will be constrained to initiate legal action against you under the law and you will have to bear all the costs and pay the same to DSGMC. You are further requested not to indulge in such illegal activities in future against Sikh Gurus and the Sikh religion. Your reply with an unconditional apology should reach DSGMC.”
The company of Tarun Tahilani agreed to the demands of DSGMC and issued a letter in which they apologised to the committee and promised to take all the designs back to the warehouse.
As a Design House, we draw inspiration from many fronts. In fact, this collection is in collaboration with the Singh twins who are Sikhs themselves. Hence it did not even cross our minds to check on the sensitivities of placement of such a print. As a gesture of goodwill and because our company policy is to spread harmony and not offend anyone we have instructed our stores to withdraw the particular skirts immediately from the display and return them to the warehouse.”
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- In 2004, awarded the Moet and Chandon Fashion Tribute Award for Designer of the Year for India
- In 2004, awarded the F Award for Best Women’s Designer for Couture
The Tarun Tahiliani empire is valued at over Rs 100 crore, but he declines to confirm that number. When asked about it, he said,
People with taste don’t discuss what they’re worth!”
Tarun Tahilani’s couture business clocked a turnover of Rs 67 crore in the financial year 2020.
- Tarun Tahilani is known to be the one, who lead the foundation of the fashion industry in India.
- Tarun is very close to his sister Tina. In an interview, he said,
I am very protective of my kid sister Tina. We went to school together, attended piano classes and Pearl Padamsee’s theatre classes together, and played together.”
- He once shared that why he dropped St. Stephens’s College. He said,
My one year of college at St Stephens in Delhi was disappointing. With just one honour subject to study, there wasn’t enough of a challenge. So, I went to the US.
- Tarun had a knock knee problem when he was a kid. He shared in an interview,
I grew up being exposed to arts, painting, music, and theatre. Much as I would have liked to participate in sports, I couldn’t, because as a kid, I had a knock knee problem. I moved around with legs, braces, and clutches. Doctors advised that my legs be reconstructed and I went through an operation.”
- Tahilani once shared that he loves travelling.
- Tarun Tahilani strongly believes that people who create style do not follow a style.
- Tarun Tahilni is the kind of person, who want to live the life to fullest. Family and friends are more important to him than money. He said in an interview,
I don’t want to die with a billion dollars in my bank. I believe in living life to the hilt. I have my own interests. Certain relationships are important to me. At the end of the day, it is my family and friends who help make my life full.”
- Tarun Tahiliani has been given the title of the ‘Karl Lagerfeld of India’ by famous British stylist Isabella Blow.
- Tarun Tahilani once said in an interview that he works with Indian craftsmen for nearly everything, from hand-blown chandeliers to carpets and clothes. Only the tulle is Italian because he hasn’t found an Indian replacement.
- He is mostly known for his bridal collections. The best part of his collection is that they are lightweight, comfortable and elegant. He criticised the act of humiliation of the Indian bride when the zipper of her lehnga came undone due to its sheer weight said in an interview,
I love the traditional, stiff kanjivarams but young brides want something lighter and structured. They want to dance. The coolest brides are the ones who can dance all night in the same bridal sari and leave the venue at 6 am!” He adds after a pause, “Oh, these days even grandmothers like to wear fun creations.”
- In 1989, Tarun missed the opportunity of attending the festival of France despite getting selected due to usual Indian politics. This is the reason that he had to rely on the route of education to get such exposure.
- In September 2003, he was the first Indian designer invited to showcase his work at the prestigious Milan Fashion Week and has since shown collections in New York, London, Milan, Tokyo, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Moscow, South Africa and Karachi.
- In October 2004, he was invited to Hong Kong to represent India and he also showcased his collection in Karachi, Pakistan.
- Tarun Tahiliani had also designed Shilpa Shetty Kundra’s bridal outfit and wedding trousseau in 2009.
- His international events in the year 2005 include when Tarun Tahilani was invited to Durban to showcase his collection at the first-ever Durban Fashion Week 2005, and also to Johannesburg Fashion Week in July 2005 along with Malini Ramani and Rohit Bal.
- Tarun Tahilani had also designed for the Duchess of Kent, Aamir Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Isabella Blow, actor Kabir Bedi, and Fern Mallis. Celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Goldie Hawn and Elizabeth Hurley have also been known to shop at the Ensemble stores in Mumbai.
- There are many fashion stores around the globe that showcases the designs of Tarun Tahilani. Some of them are, Eickhoff (Germany), Bijenkorf (Amsterdam), Elenora (Rome), Gio Moretti, Via Della Spiga (Milan), Eleven Monte Carlo (Monaco), Podium (Moscow), Scoop and Gus Mayer (New York), and Josephs (London).
- One of his most famous works is Kumbhback which was inspired by traditional Kumbh Mela and the designs were of a beautiful combination of colours sunset tones like amber, subtle rust, saffron, deep red with hues of aubergine, pink, blue and black.
- He said in an interview, that embroidery is the only thing that we cannot learn from abroad. He said,
I am thankful to everyone who has taught me anything, including embroidery. We learnt it from these master craftsmen who, sadly, for the most part, are still treated like karigars because unfortunately in India, due to the social divide, if you don’t speak English, you’re a karigar.
- He is also an active member of Save the Children India which forced the Indian government to raise the health budget up to three per cent before the announcement of the budget.
- Tarun said in an interview that he had always asked his craftsmen to talk in Hindi. He added,
I have always stopped people from speaking English in the factory because most speak horrible English but they think that’s how you get ahead. And I say, ‘Rather than screwing my English, why don’t you improve my Hindi instead because I am from South Bombay!”
- Tarun Tahilani is also an aware citizen of the country. He very actively attended CAA protests in Delhi and was also involved in the #Metoo campaign.
- In his opinion, style is what you do with things like the way you have worn your kajal in a very Indian way with your very western clothes and boots.
- Tahilani once said that he is nothing without his co-workers. He said,
I’m not the kaarigar. I’m the mind, I sketch, I do some drapery, I visualise, but I’m nothing without all these hands — the pattern-makers, the embroiderers, the drapers, the finishers.”
- Tarun said in an interview that as designers, we have failed. Indians used to wear western outfits on daily basis. He always wanted to make Indian wear more comfortable. He said,
Fashion is a serious thing, and it is my mission is to keep our heritage alive in a modern way. I don’t think it’s cool for Indians to wear western outfits on a daily basis and then suddenly become maharajas and maharanis on their wedding day.”
- Aditya Birla Fashion Group acquired a 33.3% stake in the company of the designer Tarun Tahilani for Rs.67 crore, with a hope to increase the stake to 51%. Aditya Birla and Tarun had come together to launch a men’s ethnic wear brand at affordable prices. In the men’s wear brand, ABFRL will hold an 80% stake and the rest will be held by Tarun Tahilani.
- Tarun Tahilani loved the way Indians drape the costumes. He said in an interview that costumes from Prada will look similar even if you drape them in a different way. But, when you drape a sari it takes the shape of your body and your wrap caresses you, falling differently.
- Tahilani said in an interview that I want my fashion to be timeless. He added,
In today’s style people are running around in stilettos, they want to dance, they jump around, and I think it’s our job to give them clothes that they can wear and have fun in and be beautiful. If someone wants to run up and change at 11pm because she can’t bear to be in her outfit then I’ve failed as a designer. Also, You can’t wear clothes once, you must break up the clothes, wear them in different ways. So I’ve always been in that respect a modernist.”