What really happens inside a fashion atelier? Tarun Tahiliani reveals all

“It takes a village to bring a heartfelt vision to life,” Tahiliani says

Designer Tarun Tahiliani has begun to invite national media and his top clients to his factory whenever he can. High-paying couture clients have to trudge to Gurgaon, where they can meet with the designer and his team, and place their orders for customised pieces. But once there, they are transported to a world like no other.

Tahiliani’s factory is an architectural marvel. Designed by the architecture firm Stephane Paumier Architects, the entire edifice is in the shape of the designer’s initials and logo: TT. It is a three storied structure in exposed concrete and bricks, and a luxurious space that matches the designer’s ‘India Modern’ aesthetic (his own coinage of decades ago has now become a fashion mantra) of Islamic arches and contemporary engineering finesse.

The industrial area all around hardly offers a pleasurable experience for buying luxury. The Tahiliani studio thus looks inward. Its inner courtyard is a frangipani garden, and numerous skylights allow for natural ventilation as well as for the sunlight cutting through the building. The studio houses the designer’s clothing production, embroidery rooms, administration offices, a new couture showroom, an archive room and multiple studios for various collections. The terrace is a garden with a permanent tent where the designer hosts elaborate luncheons and cocktails.

Tarun Tahiliani (extreme right) at the finale of his show at the FDCI India Couture Week | instagram@fdciofficial Tarun Tahiliani (extreme right) at the finale of his show at the FDCI India Couture Week | instagram@fdciofficial

With this building, Tahiliani, 61, aims at something no fashion label in India has done before. He invites you into his factory to see first-hand the working conditions of his large team of designers, tailors, cutters, embroiderers, and others. Guests are free to roam the gargantuan space, and to touch and feel the garments on the mannequins. They can talk to the design team and all the workers (masters Tausif and Shamim Firoz are old hands here), and learn more about the label’s design language and the crafts employed.

Last week, hours before his fashion show at the FDCI India Couture Week, Tahiliani invited some of us here to see up-close what he would be showing hours later: elaborate but unconventionally lightweight clothing made with chikankari and kasheedakari embroideries and drawing from Byzantine art, Moroccan Jaals and Persian motifs. At the show, he would break convention again and take the finale bow with four of his top designers—Mansha Sahni, Zaib Ahmed Quazi, Harshit Srivastava and Umarjit Mei Tei. “It really takes a village to bring a heartfelt vision to life and it can never be done alone,” he later stated.

Tahiliani’s factory does not say it but spells it out: respect your employees by giving them an environment that is welcoming, luxurious and a visual feast. This reflects in their work too, in his supremely tasteful and impeccably tailored couture that appears to be industrially crafted, even though it is all handmade. This human capitalism is a rare feat in Indian fashion, where designers earn lakhs per outfit on the dint of poor artisans working in substandard conditions and for poor pay.

I feel more than climate change, sustainability is all about checking Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) boxes that focus on fairness and diversity as well. Fashion businesses the world over are alarmingly selfish companies. The global non-profit watchdog Fashion Revolution profiles 250 companies globally each year to rate their ESG statistics, in what is called a Fashion Transparency Index. In 2023, the world’s largest fashion brands have scored an average of just 26 per cent of transparency. The Index exists because policies and mandates don’t.

Tahiliani has been quick to realise that companies are expected to be ethical. Here’s hoping he paves the way for other designers to allow journalists and customers into their workspaces.