This is how fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani organised a huge digital fashion show in the pandemic

Riddhi Doshi
At 28,349 views and counting, fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani’s 24-minute-long online fashion show for his festive and couture collection, Pieces of You, is the best thing you will see on IGTV.
What is being called India’s first full-fledged digital fashion showcase has set high standards for others in the industry with its superior video production, attention to details and high aesthetic presentation, and, of course, stunning clothes. More than 110 pieces, both, for men and women, were worn by 7 models in 80 entries, in a transformed room inside Tahiliani’s Delhi studio.
The show marked the onset of the Indian fashion industry’s digital movement, which, we hear, made for a small get-together and a social do for Tahiliani’s clients in Dubai. Tahiliani sure is excited!
Tarun Tahiliani
Tarun Tahiliani
Tells us about Pieces of You.
It’s a mix of three things. In July, we show our Fall/Winter festive collection, lighter bridals are usually shown in March and couture in July. This year, we also showed our 25th anniversary’s special collection – 25 pieces showing different crafts and design techniques used in the studio. But before we could launch most of these, everything shut down in the lockdown and opened only in May followed by chaos – the stringent operation rules and migration. 
By May, it was too late to send different collections to different stores. Back then, we didn’t even know which were the good markets. So, we decided to show everything in this collection. Sometime later, we will do a small couture presentation, which will only have eight to twelve pieces and that will be super stylised. This collection is more in the spirit of festive – drapes, new jackets and bodysuits, more for modern, younger women or for brides or anyone really.
Festive Wear. Source:
Festive wear. Courtesy: Tarun Tahiliani
Read: This is what a fashion runway in the age of social distancing looks like
What were the challenges in putting together a show of this scale in the pandemic?
To begin with, we had to find a place to shoot. We first decided to go to a hotel. But most hotels have become quarantine centres. Then we thought of shooting at the Leela Palace; it has beautiful corridors. But the logistics were becoming very complex. We then thought of a room in our studio with high-ceiling and windows on one side and decided to use that. We emptied it, painted it to make it look like a cement room and created two black panels and used an old miniature painting, which looked like a fresco. It looked great. I asked my team to use no branding or logo and keep it clean.  
Kumbh Back Lehenga. Courtesy: Tarun Tahiliani
Kumbh Back Lehenga. Courtesy: Tarun Tahiliani
The second and biggest challenge was safety. We didn’t want anyone to fall ill while working on our project. That would be terrible. Also, and our digital editor was pregnant and we couldn’t risk her being sick at all. We emptied all the offices and gave each model a board room. If it was a long board room, then two models were accommodated in one. As soon as they walked in, we handed them a shopping bag with water bottles and snacks. Also, everyone had to use designated toilets. For makeup, models were taken in one by one and the dressers wore full PPE kits. It was like being in an operation theatre. 
In another room we had jewellers with their jewellery, sitting separately. The models would get dressed, go in the jewellers’ room, accessorise and walk the ramp. We shot about 80 entries. It started at 11 am and went on till about 8 pm to 9 pm. It was gruelling but it was worth it.
Courtesy: Tarun Tahiliani
Courtesy: Tarun Tahiliani
It was in a free space, the girls could move about and you could see and feel the lightness, which was the essence of the collection. We could communicate many other things through the video and plan to do this every few months. We now have pretty much gotten the process down as an artwork.
How will you compare this experience viz-a-viz a show with a live audience?

When there are 300 – 400 people in the room, there is nothing like that experience as you can see everything for real. But these shows only have a few editors and guests. But a digital show can be seen by so many more people and can be filmed beautifully. I actually think this worked better. We had more control. We could style each piece to perfection and re-film some parts. If someone tripped, we could cut that part out and the quality of the video was much better. You could see everything with much more perfection. That made it worthwhile for thousands of people. Anyways, it will be a long time before one gets back to the old format of fashion shows.
Menswear. Courtesy: Tarun Tahiliani
Menswear. Courtesy: Tarun Tahiliani
Read: Prada’s latest Fall/Winter’20 collection to go under the hammer at Sotheby’s in October
But are people buying online, especially couture?
You have to try on the couture pieces if you are in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata or wherever else our stores or experts are. If you are not in these cities, it doesn’t matter as you don’t get to try these outfits anyways, unless we have a trunk show. However, this year, brides are doing things digitally because they don’t have a choice. And because everyone’s business is slightly impacted, the kind of service people are getting now, even online, is unbelievable because people have time. Also, the digital medium tends to be more efficient because there is not so much faffing around. It goes much faster. And the level of customisation and the alacrity you now get with it is amazing.
We did a beautiful wedding during the lockdown for a Hyderabad-based couple. We watched the fittings happening in the bride’s house from Delhi and were making notes. A digital medium makes that possible. 
Signature TT Bridal. Courtesy: Tarun Tahiliani
Signature TT Bridal. Courtesy: Tarun Tahiliani
What is your idea behind creating smaller videos?

They capture what each piece or collection is inspired from. We are going to create many more of these. It tells people much more about an outfit; its provenance, karigars, the way the clothes are made, the history of that craft, etc. It’s basically getting inside the head of the designer. It gives people more depth. You know what it’s representing to someone. For instance, our videos on Chikan embroidery also shows paintings of women in the Deccani courtroom.
Courtesy: Tarun Tahiliani
Courtesy: Tarun Tahiliani
What lessons did you learn in the lockdown?
The biggest lesson I learnt was the importance of stillness and I realised that I love it. We had populated our days with so much. In my case, I won’t call it FOMO but there was so much going on. And here, by law, you weren’t allowed to do anything and you realised that you were exhausted earlier, yet kept going.
Also, I was able to think much more. The process of thinking, assimilating and then taking things out was sort of revived. I am not going out at night. Having dinner every day at home and ‘reflection’ has become a habit. I think I am not going out any time soon. 
Lastly, the migrants’ situation people walking homes with their children, starving, dying on the roads felt like the Partition was happening again. It was such an appalling, horrible thing to see. It has really changed my perception for people who work for me as many of them are migrants. I think it has sensitised us in a way that we had forgotten to be. It made us realise that there are people we need to look after, to care for, whether it’s someone working in your house or in your factory. It taught one to do more. We were feeding thousands of people outside the factory but then we started doing much more as it made us realise how traumatic these people’s lives are. I think, form now on, we will think a little more about the society.
Courtesy: Tarun Tahiliani
Courtesy: Tarun Tahiliani
When do you think the Indian fashion industry will fully recover?
I don’t think for a year or more. I also think that most people, in some way, are impacted. So, even if someone is getting married now among 50 people instead of 3,000 over five days, their budget, by virtue of that, is going to be much less. I don’t think people are going back to that scale of a wedding anytime soon. Hence, people are also asking themselves when will they wear their heavy dress again.
People are looking for ‘sensible luxury’ and not an over-the-top luxury. Attitudes are changing. That practice of not repeating clothes will certainly end and people are going to buy great quality.  
Also, there will be a lot of casualties. Many stores and design houses will close down for good or temporarily. One will require not just design skill but also business skill to navigate through this time. 

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