India Couture Week: Bringing it to court


India Couture Week: Bringing it to court

A Tarun Tahiliani show is a recipe most fashion writers (and clients) know by rote. An artistic performance, (whether it is by qawwals, Kathak dancers, tribal musicians from Rajasthan), lavish sets, clothes that hit high notes in terms of quality, precision of cut and drape, fabric detailing and craftsmanship all wrapped in the diaphanous mist of “much-ness”. Even as a consistent caterer to the bridal fashion clientele of Indians in India and abroad, Tahiliani allows his essentially liberal outlook towards life, fashion and arts to prod and urge him. Whether it is the enduring tale of a courtesan who deserved better in her life and time or a half dazed, half-draped sadhu at the Kumbh Mela, he brings a variety of elements and influences into his work that are typically out of fashion territory—to seamlessly sew stories out of them.

His audiences must then unravel the spectacle he unfurls. We train our eyes on the dozens of details that zoom in and out of view as garments walk by—the Swarovski crystals he is so fond of using as embellishments, pretty women wearing flowers and big jewels in brocade lehngas, lace and net saris and embellished blouses, cholis that heave with dexterous embroidery, pattern and cut, colours that remind us of our cultural fixations as well as our struggle to get past them. So what’s going on this time, we ask, what is it that he is trying to say that he didn’t at the last such outpouring of regalia.

The Last Dance of the Courtesan did not add to the “material much-ness” that defines Tahiliani’s work. But in the detailed luxury of the garments, in the not so quiet power of his embroideries, in the hug of the corsets, the audacious prettiness of tulle shararas with gota embroidery, the way sheer and heavy fabrics consummated their proximity in this procession of bridal wear, Tahiliani took his work a notch higher this time. ‘

The Kathak rendering by dancer and Kathak exponent Manjari Chaturvedi paying tribute to the art of courtesans, their lost and snatched glory added to the fragrance of the mogras (Arabian Jasmines) that embellished the set. Chaturvedi was captivating. And yet, couture danced and sang too in the court of Tarun Tahiliani.

Calling it a “bridal and couture collection” that includes a ready-to-wear section makes it a smart offering. But it was easy to see why a section of society would spend lakhs of rupees on this cast: striking rust-red orange brocade ensembles, a memorable pleated lehgna, the romance of champagne and nude colours, the way they lent themselves to mother-of-pearl, crystal and Chikankari techniques in sheer silks, the maroon edgings on a nude-gold sari, the delicate fragility of Chantilly lace, a burst of a pink Bandhini.

Menswear—a part of the collection—used brocades, velvet, silks, georgettes in yellow, beige, royal blue and taupe. There were sherwanis, kurtas and dhotis. Some proportions in menswear could have been rethought, as the dhotis looked a bit awkwardly short but their fall and fluidity was good.

It was an all-out commercially attractive, tastefully made bridal collection (let’s not couch this under anything else), overdone in such a clever way that you were willing to overlook the indulgence.

Some things though didn’t work. One, the show started more than an hour behind schedule. Two, a capsule of black sheer lace ensembles with multi-coloured embroidery was like a sore thumb—it didn’t fit the aesthetic compilation of the mood, even if it gave the collection “couture” outside “bridal wear”. Most crucially, the collection badly needed editing. In the absence of which, the show became long and repetitive. Long after the “idea” was established, it kept cloning itself in different cuts, colours and fabrics. Just as the aesthetic appeal of Tahiliani’s bridal couture scaled up this time, the need to edit rang louder than ever before.

Manjari Chaturvedi, the artiste at the core of Tahiliani’s theme, could have been dressed more compellingly. There was no lark in her ensemble, no interpretative brilliance.