Stephen Lotha. 29. Fashion stylist for Cosmopolitan India. Belongs to the Lotha tribe. Grew up in Dimapur. Lives in Delhi. Likes Guo Pei, Kris Van Assche, Sonia Rykiel, The Way we Wore, ACNE, Lana Del Rey, Keane, As Good As It Gets, Jessica Chastain…
Are you an optimist? Very much. I could’ve been a good pessimist but then I wouldn’t be happy.
How important is fashion to you?
I enjoy fashion. It makes me happy. I don’t mind people forming opinions about me because of what I wear. I care a lot about what I put on my back. I feel naked in denim and t-shirts alone. I feel the world is my prom and I need to dress up.
You studied English Literature at Loyola. How was it? And how did you get into fashion?
It made me speak better English. My feminist professor adored me. Nice people…that city. However, studying there was just to make my mom happy with a college degree. Fresh out of college I wanted to be independent so I took a job at a call center. Worked there for 3 years. Then one day Carol wanted me to style her portfolio. I helped her. A make-up artist called Chandni Singh liked my work and helped in spreading the word. It moved from there.
What’s the best and worst thing about Dimapur?
I like the fact that alcohol is cheap there. Also, the fashion for sure…the flea markets, and the quality pork. Worst: Well the roads are only meant for cows.
How often do you go back? Any favourite hangouts? I go back once in a year or two. Hang out mostly at cousins’ places or occasionally at some bars. I love Dimapur but I could live without going back ever.
What do you think of fashion in Dimapur?
Fashion is ‘the all’ for Dimapurians. We thrive on it. Ask anyone. It’s fashion before food and air. I used to love it before people became richer. Now it’s a little vulgar with everybody acting too uptight and dropping brand names.
You told me you grew up dreaming about making clothes..
Yes. Since I was 9ish. I used to sketch gowns and shoes all over my books and mom used to thrash me. Once mom collected all my sketches in a huge bag and handed it to my principal. I got 10 blows on my back. My grades were not too good either. She wanted me to do/become something else.
How was your childhood like?
Adventurous, really. I saw things that I wasn’t supposed to see. It wasn’t all gas balloons and butterflies, and hence it made me search for wonderful things beyond. The television was a box of magic and it made me giddy(not that we owned one). Back then I felt I should be on tv and make people love me.
Mom and I used to live in a house made for poultry. Two years. We would lie in bed and see the stars from the holes in the roof. It was fascinating..but not during the rains.
I stayed in an orphanage for a year. Mom was poor. The place gave me free food and stay but made all of us work like crazy. I used to pull a cart carrying pig feed up to like 5 kilometres in Dimapur. I was 9. I know what is embarrassment, shame, what it feels like to be hungry, broke, and hopeless.
Any happy memories?
Well maybe the sundays when we were served meat for dinner. And mom visiting me once in a while. I used to cry when she’d leave.
What keeps you going?
Comic books. Strawberry ice-cream. My dreams of living in an Andy Warhol inspired house one day and a lot of money to buy good stuff pushes me. And on a trying day, a sincere prayer.
Photographed in Delhi & Dimapur.