The resurgent interest in Northeastern fashion may be politically correct but there are good reasons why it could sustain.
In the past five-seven years,Atsu Sekhose has seldom been short of attention for his fashion. A talented and critically liked young designer,his clothes have been on fashion magazine covers (even before his sales picked up),and his name and work on portals and fashion blogs. But now,Atsus phone rings a little too often. He is sought after by mainstream media for his thoughts on subjects other than fashion. Given the medias new interest in cultural diplomacy following the recent political simmering around the Northeast,Atsu makes a good profile. He hails from Nagaland but studied at the National Institute of Fashion Technology,Delhi and trained under Tarun Tahiliani. He follows Punjabi,loves chhole bhature and if he frequently dresses Northeastern brides who fly down to his Delhi studio,he doesnt shout about it from rooftops. The clothes he creates are more Max Mara in buoyancy than ethnic Naga. He may be frustrated about the neglect of the textiles and crafts in his state but he has refrained from making that complaint his calling card. In fact,one of his former collections had clear echoes of the Punjabi phulkari in it.
Today,Atsu is a slightly changed man. The Naga identity he wore casually will be his formal jacket when he takes a bow next month at the Wills India Fashion Weeks Spring Summer 2013 edition. Late as it is,but medias recent attention towards fashion,music,culture,craft of the Northeastern states is welcome,he says. This is the time to put out a voice which nobody heard earlier, he says. When we spoke to him earlier this week,Atsu was in Nagaland preparing for his new collection,focusing on his state for fashion inspiration something he has never done. Instead of saturating his collection in the grammar of tribal colours blue,black and red,or cutting out woollen shawls to make dresses,he wants to contemporise them in European colours. Replacing wool with silk will enhance wearability,he feels. I want to take this collection to an international trade fair too,for which I must make it universally appealing and subtle. Even so,it will have an authentic Naga stamp. The colour red is in fashion forecasts for Spring-Summer , he asserts.
The resurgence of the Northeast as one of Indias core unsettled political regions is an excellent opportunity for a recognisable identity,say designers. The recent announcement of the Shillong Fashion Week isnt incidental. Should the plans go through (a proposed Guwahati fashion week in 2010 never took place due to protests),the two-day event may open up fashion diplomacy. One day will be dedicated to fashion seminars and shows by local designers; on the next day,popular designers from Delhi and Mumbai will display their collections. It is yet to be seen if buyers from cities will flock to Shillong for northeastern clothes.
Emerging designer Jenjum Gadi,who will showcase at the Shillong Fashion Week on October 18 and hails from Arunachal Pradesh,too favours this positive if sudden cultural diplomacy. His next collection has nothing to do with his home state but he says,Our states have been neglected for too long. I only hope that this is not a fleeting interest but sustains beyond a political agenda.
That is the clinching point. And,in fashion,it doesnt concern itself only with a poetic neglect or cultural reluctance of fashion organisations. It is not as if a dozen trail blazing designers from the Northeast have brought in a new tide in Indian fashion. Emerging Naga designer Imcha Imchens collections were inspired by his home state but he needs to push the themes to make a consistent point. GenNext designer Asaboy Kazingmei,who debuted last month at Lakme Fashion Week found himself at the receiving end of a slew of internet critiques from fellow Nagas for using the red shawl traditionally intended for men to create female costumes. The response to Atsus Naga inspired collection is still to be seen. Suspended between a crunchy past and a potentially fertile future,fashion from the Northeast may need much more than political correctness from fashion week bodies or the government. Given that some prominent fashion bloggers are Northeastern too,it may not be a bad idea for them to join voice with the cause and write about contemporary,non-ethnic routes for mainstream stores to discover and enjoy what their states have to offer more than just changing fashion.