Meet designer Vikram Rai Medhi from AssamAs a little boy, he would refuse to wear any fabric other than the hand spun material from Assam, his native State. And when he grew up, his childhood fascination for local fabrics spread to the rest of the neighbouring States. So much so that Vikram Rai Medhi decided to do a fashion show with the fabrics woven by the local weavers of Assam, Manipur, Meghlaya, Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram and so on. To showcase the home-grown variety. But he found "Assam very conservative" to come out of its long-drawn traditional barriers to the level of a fashion ramp, and also noticed "a narrow approach" of people outside the region who thought north-eastern fabric "was all about tribal designs only".To fight both, and to make north-eastern fabrics such as muga, guna, pat and eri, a rare Assam silk procured through a cocoon and found only in the region, and traditional dresses like mekhela chador etc., reach a wider market, he approached corporate houses. After a lot of convincing, he found sponsorship of Rs.12 lakh for his first fashion show in New Delhi. It was at the then Hilton hotel in 1994. Since then Vikram has never looked back.
For the globeVikram, said to be the first designer from Assam to sell the Assamese prêt line outside the region, nowdesigns clothes with his wife Meghna. Just recently, Vikram has added another first to his credit, a fashion show of traditional north-eastern fabrics done in western silhouette at Octave 2007 in Hyderabad. Organised by the Ministry of Culture, hedisplayed 76 dresses at the event. Says Vikram, "I have lost the count of shows I have done now but there were times when I literally struggled with the people of my region. They take at least 40 days to weave one fabric. They don't understand the importance of the amazing fabric they weave. They weave the maximum only during the Bihu festival and sit idle for the rest of the months. " He says, "The younger generation, in many cases, is not passed on the skill. The elderly weavers are starving. So I have taken it upon myself to give them some employment by buying their fabric, then fuse them with Western silhouettes and sell them at affordable prices. That way, the hand-woven sari ranges between Rs.6000 and 40,000 only." Vikram also started Assam'sfirst fashion design institute, North East Institute of Fashion Technology - NEIFT - a few years ago. In all his shows, the opening sequence is always north-eastern, he proudly says, reasoning, "It is my tribute to the region." he reasons.RANA SIDDIQUI