RUPERT LYNRAH’S “showroom” in Shillong is not what one expects from one of the town’s top designers. It is a shop in a busy shopping centre. But, as I ran my fingers through the exquisite selection of Meghalaya drapes and the smart range of western wear, I realised that one cannot judge the product by the shopfront. “This is not Delhi,” says Lynrah with a grin. “Here, you do not have to shout exclusivity. And here, you do not judge your clients by how they arrive. Even the villagers in Meghalaya are stylish and buy top of the line stuff.”
Lynrah has deliberately kept his store accessible to all—from a collegian who is looking for just a stylish accessory, to the tourist who wants to take back a local dress that she can still wear back home in Bengaluru or Mumbai, to the bride putting together her trousseau. He keeps an “exclusive” store in South Delhi, catering to the tastes of the capital—lehengas, shararas and Indo-western wear—with his trademark touches in northeastern fabrics and weaves, and Oriental and European embroidery.
Lynrah was studying economics at Delhi’s Shri Ram College of Commerce when he realised what his true calling was. He got his economics degree, but turned a designer. He spent seven years working with a big retail house in Dubai, which allowed him to travel to fashion destinations worldwide. He learnt, and then he returned in 2012. Not to Delhi, his childhood home, but to Shillong, his homeland. “I always wanted to,” he says. The northeast was always a stylish place, but no one did designer stuff in traditional wear. But the east was opening up, and as much as the local residents desired a smart western outfit, they wanted their own jainsems (traditional drape) to be contemporary and bespoke, too. “People here are more enterprising than before, and there is a lot more money in hand to splurge,” he says, noting that the local demand alone is enough to keep a designer busy and prosperous. In 2016, he participated at the London Fashion Week, where he got the chance to show fabrics of his state to an international audience. “In the past, designers have come and taken ‘inspiration’ from our states. But it takes a local, who knows the back story of every skein, to be able to showcase it best,” he says. Lynrah has done an entire collection with one of the simplest and most commonplace weaves in Meghalaya, a coarse cotton checked fabric that rural women use. It is because of these experiments that Lynrah gets invited to sustainable fashion shows.