Under a starry night sky, to the background music of the sitar, we hold up glasses of chaas to raise a toast to Ensemble India’s brand new store in Ahmedabad. We also celebrate the luxury multi-brand fashion retailer turning 36. With the addition of this latest outpost in Gujarat, Ensemble now has six stores across the country. Spread across 4,000 square feet, the new space features a marble verandah, large glass windows accentuated with wooden canopies, Terrazzo flooring, brass strips, mesh grids, and multi-angle mirrors which became a hotbed for selfies at the launch.
Post the launch, as we butter piping hot bhakris and sample dishes from a traditional Gujarati thali at the iconic rooftop restaurant Agashiye, Tina Tahliani Parikh (co-founder and executive director of Ensemble), her daughter Aria Parikh (merchandiser at the store), and designer Tarun Tahliani, break down the journey of the store, which first launched in Mumbai in 1987.
Setting the stage
A revolutionary concept then, Ensemble was started by Tarun and his wife Sailaja to provide designers a platform to showcase their work of love. This is where numerous big names from the fashion industry were launched. “80% of India’s key designers from Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla, Manish Malhotra, Anamika Khanna and Gaurav Gupta, to more recently Kshitij Jalori, 431-88 and Karan Torani have all been launched by Ensemble,” says Tina.
Trendsetters in the fashion industry, the brother-sister duo has had an overall industry perspective. “We did fashion shows that heralded the trends of the season way before fashion weeks started,” says Tina.
Ensemble’s 30th anniversary celebration in 2017 was particularly iconic. About 35 designers came together to showcase their contributions to the industry. Wendell Rodricks presented his landmark Visionnaire Collection, which he had designed for the visually challenged. Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna did an interesting film which could be viewed inside a long tube, almost like you view a kaleidoscope. Rohit Bal did a museum quality exhibit with his stupendous coats. Shahab Durazi, Tarun, Anamika and Manish did installations. Amit Aggarwal did a 15-foot long panel with his recycled polymer strips.
Thirty-six and counting
Along with the store launch, the celebrations for the 36th year also saw a fashion show where models showcased looks that are a mix and match of various designer outfits and accessories. From an Amrich jacket styled with a Chandrima bustier and Tarun Tahliani archival pants to an Amit Aggarwal cape styled with a concept sari by 431-88 and a CVH necklace. “One of our aims is to help people find their personal style. And by mixing styles, like we did in the show, and creating your own unique ensemble, you’ll never end up at a party wearing the same outfit as someone else,” says Aria.
Tina and Aria emphasise on styling each piece in different ways so that customers can extract as many wears from it while still feeling they are wearing something new and exciting. They believe clothes should serve beyond a single occasion.
“These pieces are a celebration of our craft and culture and we should take pride in wearing them again and again,” says Tina, discussing re-wearing and repurposing garments. “My mother is a fine example of this,” adds Aria. “She has worn her Injiri outfit so many times. She used to wear it outside, then wore it to office and then used it as pyjamas at home,” she laughs.
While ‘rewear and repurpose’ has been a part of Ensemble’s ethos since inception and has guided their curation, they have become more vocal about it in the last few years, given the overconsumption in fashion. “Our clothes are love letters to craft,” says Aria. “Each of these garments has been touched by so many different hands. So much work goes into them. They should be used and not be relegated to the back of our wardrobe.”
New space, old values
The glitzy new store in Ahmedabad showcases creations of 50 designers. “Opening in Ahmedabad is like coming a full circle, says Tina, adding that the India she grew up in largely aped the West. When she married into an Ahmedabadi family and came to this city, it opened her eyes to what luxury could truly mean in an Indian context, with its kansa thalis, Banswara marble, brass and galvanised iron detailing, and local Indian stones and flowers.
“They were the original purveyors of the concept of ‘India Modern’ with their Corbusier homes made of local Indian material, the Nakashima furniture made at the National Institute of Design and their modern abhas (a traditional costume) made with contemporary bandhani and kangri jaali detail,” she says. From here, she imbibed ideas of nurturing Indian craftsmanship and textile traditions, while championing the ‘Make in India’ movement.
Ensemble’s core value of finding, mentoring and promoting young Indian talent has been consistent over the last 36 years. Tina says that though she is floored with the kind of talent India has, she has also had to turn down many designers in her quest to keep growing the brand, without compromising on standards. While onboarding designers, she looks for an original design language, quality (inside and out), an aesthetic that resonates with Ensemble and commitment to evolve while developing a signature style. “It’s very easy to be a one season wonder,” she says.
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