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Stamp of the East

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FUSION WORKS Vikram Rai Medhi's collection
FUSION WORKS Vikram Rai Medhi's collection

Vikram Rai Medhi, the fashion designer from Guwahati, set the stage on fire in Hyderabad

When he was young, he would refuse to wear anything that was not hand-woven in Guwahati. When he grew up, his liking for fabrics woven by the local people in the eight states of North-East translated into a passion. So much so that he decided to do a fashion show with the fabrics created by the weavers of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland and Mizoram. But he found "Assam very conservative" to do a show and people "narrow approach" to fabric from the North-East which they thought "was only about tribal designs".To fight both, and to make fabrics such as muga, guna, path, eri — the rare Assam silk procured through a cocoon found only in the state, and mekhla chador etc., reach the contemporary market, he approached corporate houses. After a lot of convincing, he finally found sponsorship of Rs. 12 lakh for his first fashion show in 1994. He has never looked back. Meet Vikram Rai Medhi. The first designer from Assam to sell the Assamese prêt line outside the hills; he designs clothes along with his wife and designer Meghna who popularised mekhla chador across the globe.

Amazing weaves

Vikram has added another first to his credit — a fashion event showcasing traditional North-Eastern fabrics done in western silhouettes in Hyderabad thanks to Ministry of Culture. The show in which he displayed 76 outfits recently was organised under the ministry's programme called Octave 2007 - Celebrating the North-East, signifying eight states of NE. Says Vikram, "I have lost the count of the number of shows I have done now but there were times when I literally struggled with people of my own region. They take 40 days to weave one fabric. It affects their lungs and eyes adversely. They don't even have the money for a cataract surgery. And yet they don't understand the importance of the amazing fabric they weave. They weave the most during Bihu, and idle away the rest of the year. They wear these hand woven clothes throughout the year. The younger generation, in many cases don't learn the skills. The elderly weavers are starving. So I have taken it upon myself to give them some employment by buying their fabric, fuse them with western silhouettes and sell them at anaffordable prices. That way, the hand-woven sari ranges between Rs. 6000 and Rs. 40,000."To take North-Eastern fabric to the world, he has also started Guwahati's first fashion design institute — the North East Institute of Fashion Technology - NEIFT - . In all his shows, the opening sequence is always North Eastern. "It is my tribute to the region," he reasons.Guwahati as now woken up to fashion, he says. "There are 14 night clubs there and the lounge culture is spreading like wild fire. The only difference is the models there do not indulge in skin show. They walk the ramp with traditional clothes."RANA SIDDIQUI

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