Design looks Northeast

Issue 06

Design looks Northeast

India Perspectives |author

Issue 06

The transforming fashion landscape is being led by progressive talent from North-East India as it brings alive the cultural spirit of the seven sisters

Contemporary Indian fashion is on the road to fluidity, androgyny and an amalgamation of the many cultures and textiles that shape the country. Noteworthy here is The Great Northeast, that has always been known for its stylish sensibilities informed by both aboriginal craft and international influence.

When the colourful and spirited fashion designer Anupamaa Dayal visited Nagaland, she was privy to the well-kept secrets of the region and indulged in a happy dance with the chieftain of the Yimchungrü tribe to the beats of the log drum — the heralding of her new collection, ‘Fight & Feast’, that would eventually be showcased at the Amazon India Fashion Week. Such was the inspiration that the checkered print of the chieftain’s shawl was reimagined as a six-yard saree!

Assamese silk sarees are a coveted collectible

The seven states are brimming with ancient wisdom, rich natural and historical wealth and diverse cultural traditions to create a melting pot of ideas for the fashion and lifestyle industry. The recent years have also witnessed a steady rise in dynamic young designers who are taking the aesthetic vocabulary of their home states to the world.

A smorgasbord of colours and delicate techniques meet to reflect sartorial brilliance. A single glance at these spectacular works may give away the multitude of narratives that define the life of the region — how each Naga tribe has a defining fabric, a unique colour spectrum, a signature motif and a distinctive drape. Add to that splashes of wildlife stories, bold metal and stone accessories and occasions that make traditional attire come alive in all their glory – the northeast is a celebration of humanity in its clothing.

Cross section of a silk weaving machine in Sualkuchi, Assam.

“The way of dyeing in Nagaland is a quintessential part of textile-making there. They use colours like dark blue, red and yellow, and stick to natural dyes. The designs are typically linear and fairly geometric. Draping may vary from just taking the fabric like a shawl to wearing it as a skirt or converting it into a full outfit,” elaborates Dayal.In Arunachal Pradesh, it’s the intricate weaving practised by women that not only enables livelihood and preservation of tribal identity, but also produces unparalleled works of wearable art. Yana Ngoba is a designer from the state who marries this tradition with the latest trends, leading to a fun mélange of colour and craft.

A Naga weaver at work. Inset: Vibrant reds define the Naga

“I have always worked with village weavers and create garments using the traditional weaves they are skilled in. With fine patterns and murals, their creativity and expertise are truly unmatched,” she shares.Jenjum Gadi, Sanjukta Dutta, Daniel Syiem, Nixon Bui, Bambi Kevichusa and Atsu Sekhose are some other names to reckon with. Gadi’s work, for one, is defined by sharp minimalism in silhouette even as he draws upon tribal vibrance and personal memories of watching his mother weave her own attire using the traditional loin loom in the village of Tirbin in Arunachal Pradesh. “The craftsmanship and creativity required to create the whimsical needlepoint patterns, featuring flora and fauna, can never be replicated by machines,” he notes.

A young girl flaunts her state’s style at the Hornbill Festival

The silks of Assam feature generously in the modern design palette of the fashion industry. While an Assam silk is an objet d’art for any saree collector, designers such as Dhiraj Deka and Meghna Rai Medhi are re-adapting the handloom to new, experimental styles. Deka, who belongs to the small town of Tihu in Assam, uses Assamese handloom in all his creations. While the designer has been travelling to the interiors of the state to carry out research on its many varieties of silk, he loves working with muga, eri and pat in particular. Medhi, on the other hands, believes in exotic weaves and threads that can be crafted into beautiful outfits that embody the resplendent northeastern spirit. “While intricate handwoven mekhla chadors depict the wildlife in Kaziranga National Park, other garments incorporate the traditional jaapi (bamboo sunshade) motif, with modish patterns and innovations. My attempt is to retain the charm of simplicity that defines the Northeast,” she explains while collaborating with local craftsmen and women who are generationally adept at eri, muga and Bodo handloom, thus preserving sustainable and timeless skills.

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