IT WAS 12 pm on a Monday morning in Guwahati, Assam, and already the Terra Mayaa Lounge was packed with high-heeled hopefuls. Models awaited their turn at Lakme Fashion Week’s (LFW) model hunt, the first in this part of the country, dedicated to discovering catwalk beauties from the Seven Sister states. That over a 110 wannabe models turned up for the audition — from as far as Jorhat, Imphal and parts of Sikkim, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh — was testament to the potential talent that the IMG Reliance-Lakme combine were looking to tap.
The model hunt came quick on the heels of a mentoring session in June, which LFW organised in association with Northeast Indian Fashion and Design Council (FNDC), seeking to bridge the gap between design talent from the region and the mainstream fashion industry. And on July 4, FNDC partnered again with LFW to host the model hunt that boasted a jury comprising Naga designer Atsu Sekhose, IMG Reliance Vice President and Head-Fashion Jaspreet Chandok, model Sonalika Sahay, actor Barsha Rani Bishaya and Purnima Lamba of Lakme.
Sekhose spoke about the dire need for talent from the region to find recognition on a national level. “There are lots of young girls here, who have big dreams. But they often don’t have the means to come to Delhi and Mumbai to seek successful modelling careers. So, I think it’s great that LFW is scouting fresh faces from the region,” he said.
With models Dipannita Sharma and Monikangana Dutta having already made a name for themselves, and newcomers Kingfisher girl Ketholeno Kense, Victoria Grace and Carol Humtsoe having found a firm foothold in Indian fashion’s quicksand, Sekhose said perceptions and pre-conceived notions about the Northeast were gradually shifting. “Internationally, as well as in India, interesting personalities and non-stereotypical faces are quite the rage right now,”
The two winners of the model hunt Jahnabi Deori and Suzanne Baker dressed in white-and-gold traditional Assamese Mekhela Chadors. Chandok spoke about how the model hunt was only the first step in a bigger outreach initiative in the Northeast that LFW hoped to set rolling soon. “When it comes to fashion, the Northeast is known for being extremely progressive. Yet, we see a very small percentage of that talent in the mainstream arena. This talent requires accessibility,” he says.
While LFW takes pride in having provided a national platform to talents such as Sailex Ngairangbam, Sidharth Sinha of N&S Gaia, Asa Kazingmei and Priyanka Ella Lorena Lama of P.E.L.L.A. over the years, there’s a world of talent still waiting to be discovered, believes Chandok.
“Apart from our mentorship session for budding designers and this model hunt, we also hope to create a showcase of Northeast textiles at the forthcoming edition of LFW. We already have two new designing talents from the region — Diming Rubu and Gaurav Khanijo — making their GenNext debut this season,” says Chandok.
Manipur-born, London-based accessories designer Mawi Keivom sums it up best: “People in the Northeast have an innate sense of style and a passion for fashion. They have fun dressing up with a carefree attitude. Whether it’s mixing vintage finds, tribal heritage or K-pop influences, it’s always original and on point. Also with far less social restrictions we have the freedom to express our individuality without being frowned upon. I’m thrilled that the Northeast is finally getting noticed,” she says.