When ace designer Tarun Tahiliani and his wife Sailaji launched Ensemble, a multi-designer luxury studio, opposite the Lion’s Gate in Mumbai in 1987, the husband-wife duo didn’t have the slightest clue that they were creating history. This was a time when most Indian fashion designers were either sending their designs abroad or working for international brands.
The couple, along with Tarun’s sister Tina Tahiliani Parikh, who is now the CEO of Ensemble, saw a gap that needed to be filled. “We sensed the need for a space that promoted Indian designers because there was no dearth of talent but there wasn’t a stage that acknowledged them,” Tina tells us during our visit to the flagship store recently. Currently, the store is brimming with creative prints, patterns, silhouettes, and textiles from across India. Each part of the Ensemble near Lion’s Gate has racks or shelves lined with creations of fashion designers including Anjul Bhandari, Archana Jaju, and Superna Som. Most of which have been created to mark 35 glorious years of Ensemble.
Back in the 80s, this fashion store was the ‘it’ place for high society ladies to shop for wedding trousseau and occasion wear. Cut to today, Ensemble is a launchpad for young, upcoming talent to showcase their designs alongside the who’s who of Indian fashion. In a candid conversation with Tina Tahiliani Parikh, CEO of Ensemble India, we try to understand how the brand has evolved in the past 35 years, where does the brand stand in the market today, and what their pillars of strength have been.
1. From 1987 to now, how has the process of curation changed for the brand?
The approach has changed dramatically. When the store was started, this [Fort Ensemble] was the place where some of the top designers of India were launched. I don’t think any of us knew what we were doing, so there was a lot of experimentation and exploration. You know things were not that commercial at that time. There were no rules, we were forming the rules, honestly.
2. How did fashion designers showcase their collections back in the day?
We used to have these fantastic fashion shows which were like a precursor of the fashion weeks of today. The fashion weeks that you know of now came into being much later.
3. What did the fashion scene look like in the 1980s and how have things changed over the years?
The entire industry started on consignment. Then the industry morphed into fashion weeks and different financial patterns like we started buying goods outright and it wasn’t just on consignment.
We’ve been through many different phases as an industry. We went through the phase where we were very influenced by Bollywood. When we started out, there was no such thing as celebrity dressing and styling. There were just the industrialists. Now there’s such a huge Indian and NRI diaspora that is interested in being dressed up by fashion designers, and social media, private equity and fashion weeks are partly responsible for this increase in interest.
Honestly, I think it’s all Karan Johar! I mean, what has he even done to the Indian wedding! He has just made it into this film where everybody is dancing and changing their outfits every few hours.
4. What role has social media played in bringing a shift in consumer interest and buying patterns?
I’d like to say Instagram has dramatically changed the scenario. But again, it is also the pandemic and digitisation that have changed the dynamics for us.
Today, people walk into our stores with a picture from our social media or website, and that was never the case before. It’s entirely different but fun and exciting at the same time. You must really be on your toes to be relevant in current times.
5. Where, according to you, does Ensemble stand today in the market?
We’re still at the forefront. Raison d'être to find, identify, and nurture new talent, while continuing to nurture our existing talent. That’s always been one of our pillars of strength.
Now, of course, our pillars are digitalization, servicing customers all over the world, and thinking about how to make fashion more reusable, and sustainable. These are all the new thoughts given the world which are living in today, in 2022.
We are grappling with all of that and trying to put our best foot forward. We want our curation to be kick-ass! I want people to say that: If I want a bird’s eye view of the best in Indian fashion then I go to Ensemble.