Kohima, Nagaland. January 2015.
Kuvelu Tetseo in Chi pi Khwu – the chief of chiefs’ shawl or the shawl of merit.
“Traditionally, it’s only to be worn by someone who has done something extraordinary or honorable.
In the old days, only a married couple who held the feast of merit for the entire village could wear this shawl. The rows of patterns are added in batches after consecutive feasts, and the embroidery on each set of patterns is stitched within a day before the sunset.
We wear it during our performances when we are representing our state or tribe. It generates curiosity and works as a conversation starter.”
Inputs from Mercy Tetseo.
Photographed at the night market in Kohima in December 2012.
“I’m wearing vintage floral print silk dress from my mom’s youth. She picked it up from a Burmese store in Dimapur in the late 70s. The necklace is a Khiamniungan tribe orange/rust beads usually worn by young women.”
Photographed at a wedding in Dimapur, Nagaland in January 2013.
What do you have in your wardrobe?
Lot of whites. Lot of dresses. Lot of fur.
Keds Krome, Aneeth Arora, Rahul Mishra, Karl Lagerfeld…
What are you listening to on repeat?
The Way I am by Ingrid Michaelson.
How do you spend your days in Kohima?
I blog when I am free. I like cleaning stuff. Mopping. Watering the flowers. Helping mom. Most of my time is spent cleaning stuff.
Anything you’re obsessed with?
Fur. And cleaning.
Interviewed and photographed in Kohima in December 2012.
There was just forest around everywhere and a very few houses. A bunch of us 6-7 kids would go on fake hunting expeditions and picnics — take biscuits and fill flasks with tea and walk and walk. This was on saturdays. Sundays were about church and sunday school where teachers will tell us stories from the bible and play some bible games & watch some christian films. Much more fun than the church now.
In our old house at Dr Billy Graham road, it was like literally living in the forest. We were the second family to move in there. Only traffic was people going to work in the fields in the mornings and evenings. When we were kids we would hang out by the gate and old ladies would give us pumpkins. My mom loves gardening so half of our land was a kitchen garden. We had 4 pigs, guava trees, mulberry, pears, peaches, passion fruit. My mom and dad grew them. Our house was a typical tin roof house with a big Naga style kitchen with a fireplace in the middle and two rooms. We used to grow our own vegetables — pretty much everything. And there was a huge tank for storing rain water that’s where two of our cats drowned unfortunately. We lived there for a year till we moved to a concrete house behind it. The garden remained till we eventually sold everything off and moved to our present house.
We used to have a lot of fun fetching water from the well and rivers. My parents used to find water sources and dig wells. We’d have competition amongst us siblings how many pots of water one could fetch in a day. We would also catch fish. I remember an old man would announce no women folk could fetch water for two days and that meant the annual Angami festival(Sekrenyi) was on. This is when a woman is not supposed to cross a man’s path. Same for men. Ah so between Azi, I, and my brother, Azi used to win. She’d fetch about 5-7 pots.
Do you have a favourite memory from your childhood? Running back home through the forests, through sun, through some scary parts, through shade, anticipating what would be there for snacks. Momos, chow, cakes, jalebis, or samosas. Sometimes mom would be there, sometimes not. We would make tea and play guess what mom would bring from school. Momos were the best.
Has the town changed a lot since you were a kid? Yes. Old small quaint cottages have been replaced by ugly buildings. Roads are better but have become smaller. Many of the ponds we played in have dried up or some people filled them up and built houses on them. All our childhood playgrounds are gone. The trees we used to climb are gone. A small stream used to run through the colony — there is a road there now. All bamboo grooves are gone. Ahh entire landscape has changed.
How did you get interested in fashion?
My mom, me, Azi, all my cousins, my nanny — we would religiously follow all beauty pageants. There were always lot of clothes in our house as there were 3 older female cousins in our house and my mom was very creative about recycling clothes. She’d buy stuff for them and then alter the clothes so I’d get to wear them too. We were always discussing shoes and clothes. Dressing up was like a game for all of us. We all used to play songs on the radio and dance. I was in love with flowy skirts. I think I had a cut out of Audrey Hepburn in a black dress. I used to pester mom to make short fitted dresses but she’d only make full length ones.
My dad used to have a great collection of old fashion, film, music magazines — both Indian & Western. There was Options, Seventeen, Glamour, lots of Chinese & Russian film magazines. We used to cut out pictures and make scrap books out of them and take them to school to share with friends. Mom used to copy ideas from these magazines & make clothes for us. My dad was the first person in our village to have a camera. He had a Yashica. Azi hated being photographed when she was a kid till she finished school. My dad used to photograph me a lot. Mom would scold us if anybody was looking down in a photo as it was considered a bad photo so we would always look straight into the camera.
Are there any films you like in particular because of their fashion? Breakfast at Tiffany. I like what Marion Cotillard wears in A Good Year. Kate Beckinsale’s body suits in Underworld. The Help — most of the characters wear really pretty stuff.
How was living in Delhi for you?
I went to Delhi first when I was 19. I was in awe of all the cars, the lights at night, the shopping malls, and the traffic was overwhelming. When I moved there, first few months were terrible. Heat was bad and people were rude. But you get used to it because you become less sensitive. Everything seemed fast– exciting but scary. For me cooking for myself was fun. There was a lot of freedom because there was no routine. Suddenly it seemed like I had more time. Days started early and would stretch till late. While back in Kohima, town would shut by 3 or something and we’d sleep by 8.
What did you miss most when you were in Delhi?
Fresh air, food, and open spaces. You have parks but not forests where you can scream.
Anything you’re listening to over and over again?
My playlist hasn’t changed much for a while but I’ve been listening to a lot of Katie Melua and also What It Feels For a Girl by Madonna because I am practicing it.
Photographed & interviewed in Kohima in December 2012.
Kuku, Lulu, & Mercy in péro ss13.
Photographed before péro aw13 show at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi in March 2013.
“The white shawl on Azi & Lulu is Mhusu Khwu or young girl’s shawl. Mercy & Kuku are wearing Chipi Khwu – the chief of chiefs’ shawl or the shawl of merit.
The big necklace is called Tida(rich man’s necklace) – it’s passed from one generation to the other. Tida in Chokri means massive necklace. You get it from your mother when you hit puberty. Before that you only wear Tiza, a string of carnelians – common for both men and women.
The moment you are born your parents claim your soul by giving you Vokha – a necklace which is short in length, a choker of beads(worn as a head band).
The quills are made of porcupine spine.” Mercy’s words.
I first met and photographed the three sisters at the Péro stall at fashion week in Delhi more than a year ago. They also hosted me back in Kohima. I hung out with them almost every day. They knew all the thrift shops. We went cafe hopping & grocery shopping…
More stories later.
Photos from Kisama, Nagaland. Pragati Maidan, Delhi. Local Grounds, Kohima. A room in Mokokchung. Night Market, Kohima.