Tarun Tahiliani finding his purpose through traditional quilting patterns for his face mask

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For almost three decades, Tarun Tahiliani has been a pioneer in the Indian fashion world, by constantly innovating in a mindful way that cherishes sustainability and tradition over a blind pursuit of passing fads and trends. As he reveals in his ‘Behind The Mask’ episode, Tahiliani is taking the time to look inwards to evaluate his real purpose as a designer in the current times.

To encourage the wearing of masks and to raise funds for the kaarigars (artisans), Condé Nast India has launched Vogue + GQ Myntra Behind The Mask, a mammoth, multiplatform initiative led by a five-part video series that ‘unmasks’ five of India’s leading designers on film. In these episodes, each designer also creates a prototype of a face mask using elements of Indian art and culture. These designs then serve as inspiration for five unique collections, each an ode to a craft or artisan community.

These masks inspired by Tahiliani’s prototype are available on Myntra and all profits will be donated to GiveIndia, which has partnered with seven NGOs helping craftspeople around the country. In this story, we ‘unmask’ Tarun Tahiliani, who has celebrated the work of Indian artisans throughout his career, and explore the inspiration behind his mask prototype.  

“Everyone’s got a pre-conditioned idea about what life should be, what success means,” he says. “This was an opportunity to hit pause and think about the life you want to live. I began to think about fashion, and what fashion we need for this life, as opposed to this extravagant, beautiful and fine fashion that is for big weddings and parties.”

Earlier this year, Tahiliani gave a tour of his atelier in Gurugram to guests to mark 25 years of his eponymous label. The atelier is also where his artisans work tirelessly to create the garments one sees in his stores. Given the current scenario, most of these workers have to cease work until business resumes. The designer recalls their efforts and hours spent on crafting each piece to perfection.

“Indian craft is so beautiful, and our craftsmen are superb,” he says. “It goes from textiles to techniques and also to, of course, surface embellishment, which is almost mind-blowing, not just for what they do, but to have the patience and the resilience to sit there and sometimes work on something beautiful for a year.”

Over the years, Tahiliani has always managed to encapsulate comfort and lightness in his silhouettes. He believes any design can be made contemporary. As someone passionate about Western wear, he’s well aware of how even at the most black-tie of events, women don’t opt for silhouettes that weigh them down, and wants to imbibe that philosophy in his traditional designs. “During my earlier travels in clusters and small towns, I noticed how people were beautifully draped,” he says. “It started to create a form in my head, and I tried to use these forms in contemporary clothing. So, it’s not only about embellishment, but also replicating some of the forms that only we Indians did.”  

A mask inspired by traditional quilting  

The designer goes by the notion that masks are uncomfortable if worn for longer durations and wanted to create one that’s light and breathable. An extension of his signature drapes, the mask is designed using silk dupion with stretch tulle extensions. Through the quilted structure of the mask, he aims to champion the tailors, pattern makers and kaarigars he has worked with over decades. The focal point is the lip-stone embroidery on the front to give an illusion of merging with the face.

The functionality of the mask is what makes it distinct. It has boning on the nose to avoid pressure and choking. The sides are sealed and ventilated from the inside. It is contoured to fit the face. A first of its kind, the mask features a hidden front zipper that allows for straws to easily pass through, without having to take off the mask.

By coming together with other noted designers in this multi-layered campaign, Tahiliani creates a mask that pays tribute to the tireless efforts of the craftspeople, who form the backbone of the industry, and, in the process, contributes towards securing their future.