The young sons of renowned designer Tarun Tahiliani are striding in their father’s shoes, one careful, confident step at a time.
It’s not easy to be the scion of a design legend. It’s harder still to take on the mantle of his business and manage the unending scope of his famed creativity that transcends fashion and spills on to homes, weddings, watches, carpets, jewellery and even a fragrance. But Anand and Jahan, sons of one of India’s best-known fashion designers Tarun Tahiliani, are doing just that – while still keeping their sanity, humility and playfulness intact. “Handling our dad’s crazy creativity is actually the biggest challenge,” says Anand, adding cheekily, “While growing up, we were sent for a lot of art classes in a bid to perhaps unlock our inner creative selves. But it was pretty evident that it just wasn’t meant to be. Hopefully, the gene is just skipping a generation.” Jahan explains in a more sober tone, “I think for creative people like my father when you are getting inspiration from the world around you, it is difficult to curtail your artistic expression to any one field.”
With a large empire on their hands, the two brothers, alumni of the British School in Delhi, have split up their management roles in different verticals. Anand, 28, is the head of operations at Tahiliani Design and handles the garment business, taking care of the brand’s five major standalone retail outlets and the manufacturing business. “I am working towards consolidating and protecting the legacy of the brand,” says the firstborn Tahiliani, who graduated in management retail from the University of Pennsylvania and worked independently in sports management for three years before joining his father’s business. “There’s no better education than (one gained at) work,” he says. At 6’7”, with a shock of long hair and a scraggy beard, the older son has an arresting personality coupled with a sincerity that is endearing, even vulnerable. “It is my self-appointed mission to ensure that this company transforms into an entity that outlives all of us,” he says. Anand is hesitant to ‘tinker around’ with the brand’s creative processes, adding that he has immense respect for how much his father, one of the first five Indian fashion designers to start out 25 years ago, has toiled to get to this point: “I do not need to shuffle things around just to put my stamp on things. I still have a long way to go in developing my eye and hence tend to keep my commentary on product mix and depth to a minimum.”
On his part, Jahan, 26, has taken his initial steps into the brand’s real-estate business. Though the focus of his work is mostly in Goa, where they design and build turnkey holiday homes, he also handles the firm’s other projects such as the interiors of homes of former Google executive Nikesh Arora and film star Chiranjeevi in Hyderabad. “I take responsibility for everything outside of the creative realm,” he says, adding, “So in the lifecycle of a typical project this will include land services, legal oversight, financial forecasting, fund raising, business development, sales and marketing, and post-sales services.” Having studied economics at George Washington University, he worked in capital markets at CBRE before joining his father’s firm on the same day as Anand in August 2014. Tall, lanky, with a well-trimmed beard and a contained demeanour, the younger of the two brothers is also the more careful, tempering his words and life decisions with pragmatism and a sense of responsibility. “Belonging to a design house first known for its fashion is definitely a double-edged sword,” he admits. “Of course, having a brand to back your product is reassuring in a market where builders lack credibility and are infamous for various reasons. But I would never ride on the brand’s name to sell the product. The product must merit itself and stand out to consumers as the best value for their money.”
The brothers make roguish eye contact with one another before admitting that their relationship has improved over time. Being in the US at similar points in their education meant that they could meet and hang out on weekends, and handling separate verticals in the family firm has given them common ground without having to step on each other’s toes. Both sports junkies, they go on holidays together every two years to watch a football event – alternating the World Cup and Euro Cup – somewhere in the world, and share their love for their five dogs, including three cheerful Shih Tzu puppies that clamber over their feet and a befuddled old mongrel they adopted from Friendicoes 17 years ago. Both are indifferent to fashion labels. Anand mostly dresses in casuals he makes for himself at his father’s workshop, or else shops at Nike. “I appreciate my father’s aesthetic but I wouldn’t wear all that elaborate couture. I am a huge fan of Suket Dhir, Antar Agni, Rahul Mishra, Rajesh Pratap, and Peachoo – I like that people are not just focusing on bridal wear and that they are reinventing boundaries,” he says. His younger brother, too, doesn’t toe the style line. Jahan can’t remember the last time he bought a suit, and can only name maverick designer label Bhane – which retailed from a Facebook page before a store came up in the boho-chic Meherchand market in Delhi – as his go-to fashion brand.
After initial hiccups, both share a healthy working relationship with their father. Says Anand, “There are moments we laugh together, and moments when just the sight of each other makes us blow a fuse. But it is important to never lose sight of the fact that we share a common vision and goal. Business should never come in between family.” Jahan shares a similar perspective: “I was initially reluctant to join the family business as I wanted to work on my own but now that we have started on this path together we have a good dynamic between us. My main objective is to reduce my father’s burden as much as possible and let him focus solely on the design side of the business.”
Both brothers are clear on their future vision and their own contributions to the growth of the conglomerate. Anand is bullish on the potential of Tarun Tahiliani couture in the Middle East and North America: “Hopefully, we will get many more opportunities to interact with our patrons in these regions – initially through trunk shows and, in the not-so-distant future, through setting up our own stores.” Jahan wants to make sure that the brand is associated with the premier interior and architecture firms in the country. “Our challenge has been getting the right exposure as we are fairly new in the market, but I think people are more familiar with our work now. Indians have very sophisticated taste when it comes to home furnishings and are not looking for cookie-cutter homes that are being produced in the masses at ridiculous ticket sizes. And so each of our villas is personally curated and maintains a homely ethos without compromising on the aesthetic,” he affirms.
Their definition of what luxury means to them is telling as much as of their own individual personalities as their exposure to being both consumers and producers of luxury. Says Anand: “To me luxury is the story behind the product, the hours and the effort that goes into the creation of a single item.” He adds, somewhat wistfully, “It is also being able to do what you really want to do, knowing your work or brand will go on even if you aren’t physically there to manage it.” Sitting next to his sibling on a sofa in their large museum-like south Delhi estate stacked with collectibles and intriguing, ornate corners, Jahan speaks up, unhesitatingly, “Luxury is peace of mind. It means taking comfort in the knowledge that someone has put in heart and soul in the creation of the product you just purchased, that no corners were cut, and the artistic impression has been given equal importance as the business value.”
They may have their father’s large shoes to fill but Anand and Jahan Tahiliani are reaching out for the stars, their feet firmly on the ground.