Paris, Milan, Dimapur
In fashion-forward nagaland, being stylish is more than just a common pursuit.
It's a sunny Sunday morning in Dimapur, Nagaland and a few minutes to ten. The churchgoers quickly walk towards Lotha Baptist Church where the service will soon begin. As the church fills up and ushers arrange extra plastic chairs on the parvis for those who can't find a seat inside, the stream of people resembles a catwalk more than a procession; it's a flow of high heels, well tailored suits, fancy hair accessories, silk ties.
Lea Ezung, a 23-year-old student, enters with a group of girls. She's wearing a slightly see-through black and white animal print shirt, a satin black pencil skirt and a big white belt. She's left her favourite accessory, a Chanel bag her sister picked up in Bombay, at home today.
Her friend Gloria Tsanglao, 28, wears a calf length brown skirt with a pink ruffled shirt and a big belt, which has to be this season's must – nearly every girl sports one. Her bright pink heels, she confesses wistfully, don't compare with the pair of Jimmy Choo "killer heels" that top her wish list. They'd be perfect with the precious Gucci gown her aunt bought her in Bangkok.
A couple of hours later, it's a similar scene on the other side of town. The service at Spirit of Faith Church has ended and people are rushing home. Once again, most seem to have come straight out of a fashion magazine.
Amongst them is Seyielezo Putsure, 30, who is studying an MBA in London. He steps out of the church in smart, tailored brown pants and a black shirt with the sleeves casually rolled up. On break from his studies, Putsure, like everyone else, complies with the rules of elegant dressing. "It's something that you grow up with, it's within the culture itself," he says. "And yes, it does play a big factor."
"You'll find that everyone is very trendy, and you find more sense of fashion here than anywhere in India," says Zubeno Mozhui, the director of a performing arts centre, who organised a fashion show at last year's Hornbill Festival, the biggest cultural event on the Naga calendar.
Even Delhi-based Atsu Sekhose, one of India's most promising fashion designers – his collection is less than four years old and he has already shown in Paris and Milan – believes that in his native Nagaland, the sense of fashion is stronger than in the rest of India. "In Delhi I've seen that the fashion crowd is well dressed, but the other groups are very badly dressed," he says. "But in Nagaland you don't necessarily have to be a stylist or a fashion designer to be well dressed."
This is something that he feels holds true of the region's youth: "Northeastern boys and girls are very fashion obsessed."
"Even if you ask people in Delhi or Bombay, they will tell you that in the Northeast, people are more stylish," says Lesly Lotha, a student in Delhi and blogger behind lazymanxcat.blogspot.com, a popular fashion blog. And fashion choices don't go unnoticed in Dimapur: when passing someone on the street, people here, she says, will take in a person's bag or shoes, before actually looking at and even recognising a person's face.
The trends aren't just mainstream Western: teenagers are more inspired by Korean pop culture and the styles of different Western subcultures – emo culture gets fair play here – while adults tend to follow a more formal style.