Tina Tahiliani Parikh is a pioneer in the field of fashion retail in India. In the 35-year history of Ensemble, a multi-designer boutique she co-owns with her brother, the flamboyant fashion guru Tarun Tahiliani, she wields much power in the industry. Sharp-eyed and astute, Tina effectively offers creative inputs to the coterie of designers who retail with the store and is credited with much of the brand’s success. As she navigates the label from behind the scenes, the iron woman takes us through the entire gamut of Ensemble’s prestigious history in this extensive interview. During the nascent years of fashion design in India, in the last of the 80s, Ensemble in Mumbai was the go-to destination for all things haute couture. It was the era when India’s current crop of leading designers weren’t the household names they are today. But Tina’s eye for fashion drew her to the likes of Anamika Khanna, Gaurav Gupta, Varun Bahl, Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna, Abraham & Thakore as well as Arjun Saluja. “What I look for is an original point of view, technical knowledge, top notch talent and commitment,” she says.
Evidently, it was a mutually beneficial relationship as both the brand and the designers evolved to scale great heights. And there can be no better testimony to Ensemble’s prowess than the fact that it has withstood all the changes in the industry for over three decades.
“If I had to describe this journey, I’d say it’s been a fierce commitment towards finding new talent in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan,” Tina explains. “It was a commitment to what we believe in — in promoting young talent and high quality — and fostering relationships with our customers. We never lost sight of our north star, yet we were very aware of the changing environment.”
A Stanford University graduate and formerly a financial analyst in San Francisco, Tina’s transition to business has an interesting arc. “I grew up wanting to be an engineer because my mother was one of the first female engineers in Maharashtra,” she shares. “So I took up science and always studied hard. At Stanford, I pursued courses in international policy studies and economics, and after graduation, I went into corporate finance and monetary financialisation.”
Given her credentials, a career in investment banking would have been the obvious path for Tina. But life had other plans for this business mind, who sadly lost her mother when she was just 12. What could have turned out to be a turbulent life was, fortunately, backed by strong family support.
“My mother died when I was very young, but I was lucky she had six younger sisters. They were all incredible forces,” she shares. “My brother was fantastic, too. He is four-and-a-half years elder to me and took care of me. Of course, my father, Admiral RH Tahiliani (retired) did, too, but he was a senior officer at the time and travelled a lot. Next, he became the Governor of Sikkim and always had a lot on his plate. But he was a loving father who remained a very strong influence in my life.”
On her return to India from the US, Tina was handed the task of managing a fledgling Ensemble, which Tarun had launched with his wife Sailaja ‘Sal’ Tahiliani in 1987. It was only three years old when the designer wished to go back to the Fashion Institute of Technology to study design.
“I was mortified as I had only returned home on a six-month sabbatical but was left to handle this baby,” Tina recalls. “I stayed back, and one year later, when Tarun returned, he decided to focus on design, leaving the management of the store to me.”
While her father may remain her primary role model, Tina’s strong bond with her brother is unmissable. Having worked together for decades now, they are in sync in every way.
“The first 15 years we worked together, we saw him as the artistic mind and me as the maths and science whiz. I made the shift gradually. We support each other greatly. I constantly advise him, and he’s very open to it, and vice versa.”
The trajectory of Tina’s life is fascinating, to say the least. One could even say that there were cosmic forces at play in her decision to take a sabbatical from her job in the US, which ultimately brought her to Ensemble. Though in her younger days, the only fashion influence Tina had was watching her “incredibly stylish” mother dress up.
“For me, ‘fashion school’ was working with Tarun and Anamika Khanna and all these varied designers. I spent a lot of time in Ahmedabad, where I visited the Calico Museum of Textile. I also worked with weavers directly and received some incredible ‘education’ in the field from Asha Sarabhai, Martand Singh and the like.”
“My husband Vinay Parikh is from one of those old Ahmedabadi textile families. This was, again, an incredible source of education by stroke of luck! That’s how I ended up making the switch from investment banking to starting right from the bottom here, earning a pittance at first.”
It was through her brother that Tina met Vinay, who’s related to designers Asha Sarabhai and Anu Mafatlal, revealing an even deeper connection with fashion. While their son Sumer is a management consultant in London, their daughter Aria grew up around all things fashion and works with Tina at Ensemble.
“Aria has been working with me for the past two years in all the departments of the store. I think she’ll end up like me. I had to learn on the job, but she’s grown up watching this. I have a strong suspicion that she’ll end up doing both,” says the proud mother.
As the Executive Director of Ensemble, Tina leads a hectic but wholesome life, also pursuing other passions like music, reading and working out. But her biggest mood-enhancer remains travel. “I love travelling. I’ve had exciting experiences like microlighting in South Africa, as well as trips to Mount Everest and the Annapurna base camp.”
While Tina may be gently coaxed into sharing all things close to her heart, she refuses to get drawn into revealing her personal favourite designers. “It won’t be fair for me to pick one or just a few. All I can say is that I gravitate towards well-cutout fits with a chic, understated look. I patronise a lot of young, contemporary designers in India because I love what they do, and I wear their clothes to work every day.”’
And for 2022, Tina has her priorities straight. “I’d like to develop the next line and, at the same time, focus on myself. When you’ve raised two children and run a business, you fall last in line. This year, I’ll pay attention to myself.”
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s October 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!