Designer Tarun Tahiliani strolls through his design studio with eagle eyes. While there are 1,001 distractions, he still comments on every single garment he passes, suggesting how to improve it, or else chats with the tailor on the desired fit or the beauty of the fabric.
"Please cinch the shoulders on this", he tells a tailor, pitching the shoulder straps of a couture dress that's being made. Two steps later, Tahiliani fiddles with the draping on one of his ready-made saris. "This makes it so your sari stays where it is supposed to," he explains.
Minutes before Tahiliani was sitting at his desk, sketching yet another one of his creations and looking at the latest samples of embroidered fabrics.
He never seems to stop, always creating. Despite his obvious flair for design, Tahiliani is a man of two minds, one for art and the other for business. He has a degree from the prestigious Wharton School of Business -- and his dual skills have served him well.
Tahiliani is one of the pioneers of India's fashion industry, helping usher in the concept of designer fashion. Back in 1987, before India began opening its markets to the world, Tahiliani began his first boutique. Now, 23 years later, he has become so well known, both at home and across the fashion world, that international brands are trying to partner with him to access India's growing luxury market. "I'm a little nervous seeing the way Indians are spending on jewels, parties, weddings, travel," he explains. "I guess just having grown up here it's a totally different world.
"You know 30 years back even the rich were very low-key. Now, as they say in the north: 'If someone has 10 they pretend they have 100'!"
Analysts predict that during the next 10 years India could become the world's largest market for luxury goods. It's no surprise that international brands are trying to get a foothold in the country. But it is imperative that brands do their homework. Market analyst Saloni Nangia explains: "As a country we are evolving very fast as consumers. And most of the consumers in India are first generation consumers. We don't have a heritage of consumption and especially of brands."
She adds that international brands need to understand the vast and varied Indian market: too many big-brand names have come to India and failed to translate.
"When an international brand comes in, one really needs to understand what is this market opportunity that we are talking about and then customize the produce accordingly," explains Nangia.
Tahiliani agrees. Collaborations with those who know the market can be a great way in. But he warns it can also ruin reputations if the partnership is simply a bad fit, as he himself has seen with some big-brand names. But he is not done with collaborations and boasts a partnership with watchmaker Timex as his latest project. "Timex came and met me," he explains. "I hadn't even thought about watches and at first I said no. I said: 'I don't think the world needs another watch'."
But then he realized that there were no timepieces to go with his creations -- such as the lehenga, a sparkling and ornate skirt traditionally worn by brides -- and promptly changed his mind.
Tahiliani worked with Timex for two years to develop the timepieces that will coordinate with his range of colorful bridal wear. The watches go on sale shortly to the public in India for a few hundred dollars. The wealthy and upper middle class can often pay thousands of dollars for their wedding attire alone: the average Indian will spend more on their nuptials than the average American. Small wonder then that a company like Timex wanted to try its hand in the market, despite the nation including the world's largest number of poor.
The latest wealth report by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Capgemini showed the number of individuals earning $1 million-plus more than doubled in 2009. Tahiliani has some reservations about India's growing money culture and fears that it could have repercussions, given the inequalities present in society. But he knows it's not going away any time soon. "Its very 'rah rah bling bling,' you know, 'bring it on'," he says. "It's great for the economy and stuff but it's also a bit dangerous I think socially."