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NAGA STYLE

Silhouette Romance

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Award-winning fashion designer Atsu Sekhose doesn't believe in binging on bling.

Atsu Sekhose grew up in Dimapur, a city known more for commerce than art or fashion. But Sekhose didn't have to look far for a style icon. He had one at home: his mother.

"My mother was a very fashionable and trendy lady" he says. "She was always impeccably dressed. Whether she was wearing a skirt or the traditional mekhla teamed with a smart jacket or pretty blouse, she always looked stylish. She has been a great influence on me. "

Nagaland didn't have red-carpet events or page three parties, so the women made up for it by turning up in their Sunday best for church. "It used to be like a fashion parade, " recalls 35-year-old Sekhose, who soaked it all in and has put all those memories to good use in his elegant designs.

Sekhose's collections reflect this effortless and simple Naga style. In an industry dominated by the bling brigade, his classic cuts, controlled surface ornamentation and gentle colours feel like a breath of fresh air. The only excess you can accuse him of is the generous use of floral motifs, which, he says is a tribute to his mother who had a fondness for anything floral.

Sekhose doesn't shy away from colours but his palette doesn't display the aggression of, say, a Manish Arora. He counts the cerebral Dries van Noten and Haider Ackerman, hailed by some as the 'new YSL', among his favourite designers.

His hues both seamlessly compliment and accentuate the silhouettes. "I get praised the most for the way I mix and match colours - again a throwback to my Dimapur days, " says Atsu who belongs to the Angami tribe well known for its shawls and basket weaving. For instance, small blue flowers appliquêd on one side of a gorgeous beige dress with a flouncy neck. Or, a big pink lace collar on a black-and-white. "I like to make wearable clothes with fabrics like cotton, pure silk and even hand-woven fabrics from the North-East. "

After studying fashion at NIFT Delhi, where he was noticed and picked up by Tarun Tahiliani, Atsu worked with the master couturier for three years and later with Zara. In 2006 he struck out on his own. "Working with Tarun I learnt the importance of 'originality', " he says. "Assistant designers often get so influenced by their master that their own identity gets lost. So when I started out on my own people were shocked to see how different my clothes were from Tarun's. " He debuted at the spring/summer fashion week in Delhi in 2007. His modern adaptation of classic silhouettes became a runaway hit with fashion editors and stylists. His SS 2009 collection bagged the Elle style award for 'Best Debut' and was named one of the strongest collections of the season by Vogue India. He also showcased his SS 2010 collection at the Milan fashion week. His designs are described as "mature" and suitable for young women and those over 40. It's no wonder that his client list includes style divas of all ages, from Pernia Quereshi and Sonam Kapoor to Kalyani Chawla and Feroze Gujral.

His niche is ready-to-wear Western clothes. Now, he plans to launch an ethnic Indian line as well. Lehengas and salwar-kameezes without glitter? "Exactly, " says the designer confidently. "There is a growing market for 'Western' Indian wear thanks to brides who opt for fancy destination weddings. They are looking for ethnic costumes that are not over-the-top but classy and elegant. " For his forthcoming autumn/winter 2013 collection, he wants to introduce many more hand-woven textiles from the North-East. "But nothing too dressy" he adds quickly.

He has lived in Delhi for more than a decade and says he has never faced any discrimination because he's from the North-East. "If you are talented, people will accept you no matter where you have come from. Having said that, I also admit people from my region are looked down upon and there's a perception that we are only into drugs and rock 'n' roll. Thankfully, this attitude is changing now. " He feels the North-East urgently needs attention. "There should be more flights to the region and it should be developed as a tourism hub. "

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