Ensemble: 30 and going strong

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Ensemble: 30 and going strong

Published: Thu 21 Dec 2017, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 22 Dec 2017, 1:00 AM

Ever since I was 15, I wanted to be a journalist. Having been raised in London, I went on to do my masters in international journalism and specialised in British politics. However, when my family shifted to Mumbai, I knew I had to give my dreams a gentle tweak since I knew nothing about Indian politics. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I thought of trying my hand at business journalism, but soon realised it wasn't my cup of tea. Eventually, I began to write lifestyle features for a business magazine.
In 1994, as part of an assignment, I was sent to Goa to cover the Ensemble fashion show. Back in those days, Ensemble was Indian fashion's hot seat. Tarun Tahiliani's divine drapes, Rohit Bal's kali (paneled) kurtas with their mesmerising swirls and Monisha Jaising's sporty designs that belonged as much to India as they did to the beaches of St Tropez; each of these creations punctuated with the elegant craftsmanship. Looking back, I think it was during this show that I first fell truly, madly, deeply in love with Indian fashion.
This was a time when fashion weeks hadn't started in India and fashion agendas were formed at shows such as the one put together by Ensemble. Such was the credibility enjoyed by the brand that if you weren't here, you did not matter. Years ago, when I interviewed Manish Malhotra, who was already a well-known designer then and had his own flagship store, he told me the moment he felt he had truly 'arrived' was when Ensemble started stocking his clothes. "It's how an American designer feels when they enter Barneys," he had said. Their fashion soirees and previews were the highlight of South Mumbai elite's social calendar. The sales were phenomenal too - wives of top industrialists in the country would be seen queuing up to get their hands on their favourite outfits.
Today, as the brand celebrates 30 years of being in the Indian fashion landscape, perhaps it's good time to go down the memory lane. Three decades ago, Ensemble opened its first store (spread across 3,000 square feet) at Mumbai's Lion Gate. Tarun Tahiliani, now an iconic designer, had been working in his family business. It was during this time,  as his elegant model wife Sal shot for designer Rohit Khosla's campaign, that the idea of Ensemble was born. Eventually, Tarun began to look at the marketing of Ensemble, while Sal would be the merchandiser and Rohit Khosla their mentor. Six designers were handpicked to be a part of the store's opening, including Rohit Khosla,  Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, and, of course, Tarun himself. Over the years,  a carefully curated collection became the hallmark of the store.
Once Tarun's own label began to make waves, he took a backseat and his sister Tina Tahiliani Parikh took reins. An investment banker, she made sure that Ensemble remained a go-to store for the very best in Indian fashion, even though it routinely stocked European designers such as Hervé Léger long before Gucci  and Dior started looking eastwards.
Today, Ensemble has three stores - one in Mumbai and two in Delhi, but the former remains special. Revamped last year, it's now a 8,000-square feet property that houses sections dedicated to contemporary Indian fashion, accessories, menswear and a bridal room. Each celebrating the spirit of 'Make in India'.
To celebrate 30 years of Ensemble, the brand asked 40 Indian designers to create installations that reflected on the brand's journey. The show opened last week at the Lion Gate store and will end in January. Called 'The First 30', it includes a light installation by Gaurav Gupta, a film by Manish Malhotra and a Wendell Rodricks collection inspired by braille. Rodricks, a well-known Goa-based designer, had done a capsule collection over the past 15 years in whites that used braille as embroidery  - the idea had been to show that fashion is not about how you look, but how you feel. It debuted at Ensemble's Lion Gate store and is a befitting tribute to the brand that has stirred many a conversation in the world of fashion.   

By Sujata Assomull

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