Fashion: Traditional vs contemporary

 In recent times, one can see fashion designers from the northeastern states being very experimental with the way they have portrayed the traditional ensembles. They have used traditional fabrics and designs to turn these into a contemporary outfit catering to today’s modern generation.

With over 220 ethnic groups found in the eight northeastern states, the northeast is a treasure trove of varied culture and tradition which is clearly reflected in the people’s attires.

Mekhela chador is the traditional Assamese dress worn by women, consisting of two main pieces of cloths. Once worn, it looks very similar to the saree. The designs on mekhela chadors are traditionally woven, never printed. It is made either of muga silk, pat silk or cotton. An additional garment called Riha is also worn especially during weddings in the form of a veil.

The ethnic garment of Mizoram is known as Puan. These traditional hand-woven apparels are of different shades and intricate designs. Puanchei is by far the most colourful costume and is used by every Mizo lady. Ngotekherh, also a puan, is worn around the waist. Originally a men’s puan, ngotekherh now is worn by men and women alike.

Nagaland’s love for vibrant colour is evident in the shawls and headgears worn by both sexes. One of the common features of Naga shawls is that three pieces are woven separately and stitched together. Designs for shawls and wraparound garments are different for men and women. The shawl denotes the social status of the wearer.

The three tribes of Meghalaya – Khasi, Jaintia and Garo – have different attires. The Khasi women wear Jainsem and Dhara. The Jainsem consists of two pieces of material and Dhara consists of a single piece of material both of which needs to be fastened at each shoulder. Garo women wear a skirt known as Dakmanda and a body cloth. The men’s garment is a strip of woven cloth about six inches wide and about six feet long.

A traditional Manipuri costume for women includes a shawl known as innaphi, a wrap around cloth known as phanek and a stiff skirt type sarong.

The dress of Tripuri women for the lower half of the body is called rignai and for the upper half of the body two garments called risa and rikutu. The rignai patterns differ with different clans.

Kho is a traditional dress worn by the Sikkimese people. It is a loose cloak type garment that is fastened at the neck on one side and near the waist. Women wear a full sleeve blouse called honju inside the kho. Married women tie a multi-coloured striped apron of woolen cloth called pangden around their waist.

Although designers from the region have gained national and international recognition, they have equally been criticised for changing traditions.

After being a part of the Couture Fashion Week, New York, and gearing up for this year’s upcoming London Fashion Week, designer Daniel Syiem from Meghalaya thinks that contemporising art and tradition infuses new life into conventional elements and keeps ancient designs and techniques alive.

“I use a traditional hand-woven cloth called ‘Ryndia’ and ancient weaves in my designs. I am trying to preserve the dying art of these hand-woven fabrics of Meghalaya,” Syiem told IANS.

Another acclaimed designer from Nagaland, Atsu Sekhose, whose creations have been displayed in India Fashion Week every year since 2008, has used a traditional shawl which is worn only by men, into a contemporary design.

“If you want to create something new, you have to cross limitations and boundaries,” Sekhose said.

Assamese fashion designer Meghna Rai Medhi, who has been in the industry for more than a decade, feels that there are different reactions of people who either want traditional or fusion outfits.

“To cater to an international market, we have to modernise our outfits. The demand for authentic traditional outfits is still there no matter how much we try to infuse traditions into contemporary outfits,” Medhi told IANS.

“For example, according to tradition, the fabric ‘eri’ was only used to make woolen shawls. But now, due to modern technology, the fabric has been made very smooth and is being used to make modern outfits as well as mekhela chadors,” Assamese designer Dhiraj Deka told IANS.

Deka, who also participated in the London Fashion Week, 2013, says that his creations with the eri fabric has been much appreciated nationally and internationally and “this is a positive way of sharing our traditions with the world”.

“As a nation, we need to get ourselves out of demarcations like ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’. Design is an open medium, there should be no such barriers or insecurities,” Manipuri designer Sailex told IANS.

Showcasing his designs at the India Fashion Week since his debut in 2008, Sailex says that tradition should be a matter of choice, not an imposition.