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Tarun Tahiliani
A design by Tarun Tahiliani

If you’ve noticed the plethora of fashion weeks taking place every week, in every nook or corner of our country, you would have realized that Indian fashion has come of age.

There’s a sudden burst of young designers on the scene who have made their mark with just a few collections. Labels like Nikhil Thampi, Masaba Gupta and Nishka Lulla have become household names and their avant garde creations are spotted on Bollywood stars and fashionistas like Sonam Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut, Madhuri Dixit and Priyanka Chopra.

But if you’ve only just become interested in Indian fashion, you wouldn’t know that the explosion of style we witness today was because of the pioneering efforts of five designers – one of whom began her career as far back as 1969.

So put on your crystallized helmets, fasten your satin seat belts and let’s travel back in time:


Rohit Khosla
Rohit Khosla

If you haven’t heard about him, it’s only because he passed away in 1994, way too early, at the young age of thirty-six. But it was Rohit Khosla who started the fashion revolution along with Tarun Tahiliani. Together, they set up the first Ensemble boutique at Lion’s Gate in Mumbai in 1987. At that time, the store stocked just five designer labels that redefined fashion at the time. Apart from Tarun and Rohit’s own labels, they also stocked New York designer Neil Bieff, Jashan (a label by Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla) and Amaya (a label by Anita Shivdasani and Sunita Kapoor).

At that time, Rohit styled a number of print and television commercials. The most evocative were the Garden Vareli ads which featured Persis Khambatta and Shymolie Verma.

In fact, a number of designers who are names to reckon with today have trained under Rohit Khosla in their rookie days. JJ Valaya, Sonam Dubal and even Rana Gill were just a few who gained from his tutelage.

Sadly, however, Rohit Khosla passed away due to AIDS related illnesses but not before he left his indeliable stamp on the nascent Indian fashion industry.


Tarun Tahiliani with Chitrangda Singh
Tarun Tahiliani with Chitrangda Singh

The son of an Admiral who was the Naval Chief of Staff and also the Governor of Sikkim, Tarun Tahiliani, who studied at the Wharton Business School, gave it all up to open Ensemble with Rohit Khosla, fashioned from an old warehouse of machinery and industrial tools.

He then went off to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York where he learned the art of draping – one of the biggest influences in his design sensibility.

But what really got Tarun noticed, especially among the Page 3 crowd at that time, was that he had designed a wedding trousseau outfit for British heiress Jemima Goldsmith when she married Pakistani cricketer and politician, Imran Khan.

More recently, Tarun made headlines for designing a pink lehenga ensemble for Elizabeth Hurley‘s wedding to Indian tycoon Arun Nayyar, as well as Shilpa Shetty‘s wedding outfit.

Lady Gaga in Tarun Tahiliani
Lady Gaga in Tarun Tahiliani

But the icing on the cake was when fashion icon, Lady Gaga wore a Tarun Tahiliani outfit for her performance at the Formula One bash in 2011, hosted by Arjun Rampal, in New Delhi.

Over the years, Tarun has racked up an impressive body of work and has collaborated with brands like Levi’s, Ferns & Petals and Vu Technologies televisions.

Of course, the biggest feather in his cap is that Ensemble has expanded, opening up three more stores in Mumbai and two in Delhi.


Ritu Kumar and Anushka Sharma
Ritu Kumar and Anushka Sharma

In 1969 – years before Rohit Khosla and Tarun Tahiliani had dreamed up the fashion revolution – Ritu Kumar began a fashion revolution of her own. Except, in those days the media was not as far-reaching and instantaneous as it is today, which is why so few people know of her early work.

Armed with a handfull of block printers and tailors in the small village of Ranihati on the outskirts of Calcutta, Ritu Kumar began reviving ancient crafts and embroideries and thus also provided a source of income for village artisans.

Few know that the popularity of zardozi work today in main-stream fashion was actually revived by Ritu. Before that, it only flourished in the Mughal courts and was reserved for royal robes and wedding attire.

In fact, Ritu is considered more of a “revivalist” by the Indian fashion community because she single-handedly researched forgotten weaves, embroideries, printing techniques, dying techniques and brought them back to life by employing out-of-work laborers.

Designs by Ritu Kumar
Designs by Ritu Kumar

Earlier this year, the Government of India conferred on Ritu Kumar the title of Padma Shri for her exceptional and distinguished service in the field of fashion, textile and craftsmanship.

Probably the most famous person ever to wear the Ritu Kumar label was the late Diana, Princess Of Wales, who sported her shalwar-khameez ensembles on a couple of occasions.


Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla
Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla

If you marvel at those heavily embroidered chikankari silhouettes sported by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Dimple Kapadia and Jaya Bachchan, you might know that those stunning creations have been designed by “The Boys”.

Abu and Sandeep met be chance through a common friend in 1986 and immediately formed a bond. The duo set up their first boutique in Juhu in Mumbai, called Mata Hari, which was patronized by the likes of Parmeshwar Godrej and Dimple Kapadia.

A year later, they set up a label called Jashan, which they retailed from Ensemble. The clientele grew and included a number of leading Bollywood stars at that time like Amrita Singh.

Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan wears Abu Jani - Sandeep Khosla at the AmFAR event in Cannes
Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan wears Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla at the amfAR event in Cannes

Over the past twenty-five years, The Boys have earned a formidable name for their craft and their fine embroidery techniques. Proof of that is seen in the fact that Hollywood star Dame Judi Dench wore one their creations at the Oscar Awards a few years ago and at the Venice Film Festival in February this year.

The duo have also diversified into designing home spaces and have recently released a book (in two volumes) called India Fantastique. Volume 1 chronicles their twenty-five year journey in fashion and Volume 2 looks at their vast repertoire of interior design work.

So, the next time you see a fashion show, you will know that many of trends you see on the ramp today were actually pioneered by these five designers over the past three decades.