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City based designer giving new look to the ancestral dresses

Posted On :: Wednesday 6th September 2017

Designer Medhi was inspired by her mother who trained her right from her childhood and while she did acquire any degree in designing she felt a growing interest in designing.
Designer Medhi was inspired by her mother who trained her right from her childhood and while she did acquire any degree in designing she felt a growing interest in designing.
By: Juthika Baruah

While the Assamese mekhala-chador still remains a trendy attire and very much part of the fashion scenario, the attires that were worn by the ancestors during 40s, 50s and 60s have vanished or are considered outdated. To give those attires a chance at revival, and to breathe fresh life into this tradition of Assamese culture, such outfits are being redesigned by designer Amrita Bora Medhi. 
Designer Medhi was inspired by her mother who trained her right from her childhood and while she did acquire any degree in designing she felt a growing interest in designing. “My first teacher was my mother from whom I gained knowledge in this field. My mother used to teach me on paper cuttings and slowly I learnt embroidery as well. My mother was expert in knitting woollen stuff but I don’t quite have an interest in that. Rather, I am more interested in cutting and stitching. I have a weakness for the attires that used to worn by my ancestors. Whenever I get a chance to attend any function or occasion, I wear mekhala-chador rather than other attires. Eventually, I felt a growing interest in redesigning the attires which are no longer in use,” said Medhi.
Her interest in the old attires that remained confined to almirah corners and shelves and which were no longer worn by the people grew steadfastly and to keep those attires alive Medhi thought of redesigning them. Her efforts and work have now become very popular among the people. “The purported worthlessness of such mekhala-chadors ignited in me the idea of redesigning them. At first, I thought of redesigning some of these for myself as I had a fear that I will lose those attires for ever if they aren’t redesigned as they had apparently become old-fashioned. Four years ago I wore a mekhala-chador redesigned by me to a function at Rabindra Bhawan and some other ladies noticed it. They liked the job and I got an order of five sets of mekhala-chadors which were not “trendy” at that time to redesign. That was the first order that I received as a designer,” said Medhi.
There are many designers in the fashion industry who are very well known but Medhi is the only designer who has revived the old designs of mekhala-chadors which had vanished from the social circuit. “There are ample numbers of designers in the city who have got fame due to their designs but no one has thought that our old traditions should be preserved in order to keep our culture alive. Although I thought of wearing those mekhala-chadors myself, it was only after I got my first order that I thought of expanding my business and to make people aware that old attires could still be worn if redesigned well. To place my idea in front of potential customers and to reach out to more people, I opened a Facebook page to display my work. Through this, people have now come to know that the mekhala-chadors of the 40s, 50s, 60s, etc, which are very simple yet elegant, could be used again,” said Medhi.
The tradition of wearing mekhala-chador is now trending among youths and people want exclusive pieces. The attire has also become popular in other parts of the country and abroad as well. “My customers are mainly from Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai etc. Also I have customers from Dubai, Chicago etc. Recently I sent mekhala-chadors to Delhi and Chicago and they loved the old designs that were redesigned. In June there was an Assam Festival in Canada which is a 5-6 day programme and each day, a change of attire was obviously required. They found my designs on Facebook and asked me send three sets of mekhala-chadors along with matching jewellery. After I had sent the dresses to Canada they said that they also wanted traditional outfits for the men folk. Thereafter, I designed waist coats for men for the first time,” said Medhi.
“Besides some South Indian ladies, I also received orders from a Marwari community which celebrated a wedding with a 7-day programme and they earmarked one day to dress up in Assamese attire and so I made mekhala-chadors for them,” she added.
The rates of the mekhala-chadors vary as the weavers charge different rates according to the design. “The weavers work hard and it takes a lot of time to weave the dresses and they are usually paid a bare minimum amount. We only make the design but it is the weavers who implement the same and therefore they should be paid well. I have also urged the government to fix a reasonable rate for the weavers as they should be suitably benefitted. I therefore pay them handsomely,” designer Medhi said.
Being a designer, Medhi has also urged the state government to ask for proper utilisation of the funds that are being provided to the designers to take part in shows outside the state. “Mekhala-chadors are the tradition of Assamese culture and it should not be skewed into other outfits in fashion shows which is disrespectful to our culture. The mekhala-chadors are designed as gowns, skirts etc. in many fashion shows. This should not be done. The proper utilisation of the attire should be shown so that people get to know about this magnificent traditional dress of our state,” Medhi concluded. 
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