Executive Director of Ensemble, Tina Tahiliani Parikh, got into fashion by pure chance after her brother, designer Tarun Tahiliani, asked her to take care of his store for a year. The financial analyst tells Deepali Dhingra how she began looking at herself and style trends differently after the switch and why she is, at heart, a mother first
Tina Tahiliani Parikh, Executive Director, Ensemble
A customer struggles to drape a scarf in front of the mirror at tina tahiliani Parikh’s store ensemble at Kemp’s corner. Noticing her plight, Parikh approaches her and proceeds to show her the many ways in which she can drape the garment. “There are a 100 different ways in which you can drape a scarf,” she tells the lady. Later, when Parikh tells us she’s a people’s person, we find ourselves nodding in agreement. After all, we’ve just witnessed her interpersonal skills in action. For all the influence she holds over fashion trends in the industry, the executive Director of ensemble, India’s first multi-designer store, reveals that she never imagined herself being even remotely connected to the world of fashion. As a “nerdy kid”, Parikh always thought she was “the rational one”, while elder brother tarun tahiliani — the noted designer — was “the creative one”. Destiny, however, had other plans for the investment banker, who returned to India from the united states to take over the reigns of ensemble from her nbrother in 1990. “I always thought fashion was too frivolous for me. But as they say, man proposes, God disposes,” she philosophises. twenty-seven years later, ensemble has five stores, two in Delhi and three in mumbai, and continues to be a platform for young designers to showcase their creations.
Tina Tahiliani Parikh at her store at Kemp's Corner. At present, they have five stores and Tina says they will open more when the time is right. Pic/Sameer Markande
Finance to fashion
With her father in the Indian Navy, Parikh’s growing up years were spent shuttling between Delhi and Mumbai. “In Bombay, we had a family home behind the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. My grandparents lived on the third floor and even though we moved around a lot, Bombay was always home,” recalls the entrepreneur, who went to a boarding school in Himachal Pradesh. “My mother was an engineer and I, too, nurtured a dream of becoming one. Along the way, I realised that your parents’ dreams cannot become your dreams. When Delhi witnessed the 1981 Sikh riots, I went to work in the relief camps. I realised that this is the direction I would like my life to take. I took up International Policies at Stanford University, California, and planned to work with the United Nations,” she says. When that did not happen, she took up a job as a financial analyst at First Boston Corporation in San Francisco.
Ensemble's executive director Tina Tahiliani Parikh at her Kemp's Corner store
When she returned to India on a leave of absence in 1990, Tahiliani, who had launched Ensemble in 1987, announced his plans of going to the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, for a year, leaving Parikh in charge of the store. “I could not even remotely connect to fashion. I was intimidated by it,” she says, recalling that she told herself she’s just a “caretaker” for the period that her brother is away. But the year she spent taking care of the store, opened up her eyes to the beautiful heritage and craftsmanship India has to offer. “I was stunned to see how incredibly talented the designers in India are. The kind of legacy and heritage we have in our arts and crafts is incredible. Sometimes, I would go and work with designers and by the time I would get back home, I would be on a high seeing their beautiful creations,” she says. By the time Tahiliani came back from FIT and told her he wasn’t interested in retail, she knew this was the way ahead for her.
However, shouldering such a huge responsibility could not happen without Parikh making a few changes in her personality. “When I took over Ensemble Iallowed myself to accept that even I have a creative side,” she smiles. The mother of two believes it was a twist of fate that she ended up in this profession.
“My husband, Vinay Parikh’s family is from Ahmedabad. I was lucky that I was able to get a holistic perspective on fashion by spending time at the Calico Museum of Textiles in Ahmedabad, meeting people such as Pupul Jayakar, known for her work on the handlooms and handicrafts in post-independence India and understanding how designers incorporate traditional designs into contemporary clothing. As far as pattern-making is concerned, the stores have been my university. I have never learnt how to cut a pattern, but now I can see a garment and tell you what is wrong with it,” she adds. Her designer friends, too, have played a crucial role in helping her expand her knowledge base. While Tahiliani, whom Parikh terms “half a sociologist”, has discussions with her about design and context, she has picked up the intricacies of the fashion world through her interactions with designers Anamika Khanna and Rohit Bal.
No checklist to tick
There was a time when Tahiliani, in his early days as a designer, could not afford models and Parikh would model for him. “Even Sal (Tahiliani’s wife) would model for him. That was the easiest thing to do — catch the wife and the sister,” she laughs. At the time of this interview, Parikh is dressed in one of her sibling’s creations. “I often wear the clothes he designs. But while he likes a bit of glamour, my style is more low-key,” informs the fashionista who reveals that she barely takes three minutes to get ready for work. “I like wearing natural fabrics and I like drapes and silhouttes. My favourite garment is the sari. And though I like wearing western outfits, you will never find me wearing a clingy dress that ends above the knees. I’m just not comfortable in those,” she adds.
Touted as one of the most influential personalities in the fashion world today (to which, her modest comment is: “Really? I don’t know about that”) Parikh admits that her style sensibilities do find their way in the kind of collections she showcases at Ensemble. But she also agrees that if she goes by her sensibilities alone, the store’s turnover would be one-third of what it is. “I acknowledge that there are many needs in India which are not going to be fulfilled by my sense of merchandising alone. I have a team of merchandisers, with whom I often have a healthy debate before deciding on the designers we would like to work with,” she adds.
Though expansion is on the cards, Parikh does not believe in making grand plans for the same. “I don’t want to do anything to impress anybody else. I want to run a good company, sell a good product and ensure that my employees and the customers are happy. I would like to expand our footprint and take Ensemble to more cities, but I don’t have a checklist that I need to tick before I turn 50,” says the 48-year-old.
Though her brother is always just a phone call away, Parikh rues that 90 per cent of their discussions revolve around work. “Some of my earliest memories about our growing up years, involve us banging each other’s heads against the piano. The sounds were ghastly,” she laughs, as we try hard to conjure this violent image in our head. But Parikh assures us it was rare. “We lost our mom when I was 12 and Tarun 17. He was an extremely sweet and kind brother, who would get my clothes ready and prepare my tuck box for boarding school. He has been a sweetheart,” she smiles.
The entrepreneur, who “lives to travel” and loves discovering new places, has done a lot of trekking in the past with her husband. “I love places such as Bali and Sri Lanka. I’m dying to go to Istanbul now,” says the travel enthusiast. Although she does yoga, she has resolved to exercise regularly this year. Mother to a 19-yearold son and a 16-year-old daughter, Parikh admits that it is quite a juggling act to balance professional and personal lives, but she manages by prioritising family. “If my kids need me, I will drop everything and run to their side. It’s been a juggling act, but I love what I do and that gives me a lot of satisfaction. I feel blessed to have this life,” she signs off.
Movie: 12 Angry Men
Destination: New York and Ubud
Book: The Social Animal
Magazine: The New Yorker and National Geographic
Perfume: Terre d’Herme and Jo Malone Orange Blossom
Born: November 19, 1966
Education: Bachelors in Economics, Masters in International Policy, Stanford University
Mantra: Have gratitude and live with grace