No Munkee See Munkee Doo about this...
Teresa Laisom is listening to a hazily romantic song of Brooklyn pop band Cigarettes After Sex. Utsav Pradhan is poring over his laptop, checking out the latest issue of i-D, a British magazine that marries fashion and music. We are inside a 3,000sq feet studio on a Noida street that appears dusty and nondescript till you notice the workshops of some fresh names who have been creating a stir in the fashion industry. Like Ujjwal Dubey’s Antar Agni and Munkee See Munkee Doo, whose owners we have a rendezvous with. “Oh, he’s a pal! We meet pretty often. He’s so talented,” Pradhan and Laisom, executioners of the hip label, chortle.
|Teresa Laisom and Utsav Pradhan of Munkee See Mumkee Doo|
However, they don’t meet in soirees and fashion events, but bump into one another near their workshops. “We are from small towns. Sometimes, the way things operate in Delhi can get intimidating. So, we shut ourselves off and concentrate on our job here,” says Pradhan. “Business has always come to us through word-of-mouth. The growth has been organic. We do not like to socialize to get business. That is one thing about Delhi we have carefully avoided. Somewhere we feel more comfortable being the Sikkim guy and the Manipur girl. It’s our zone,” he says.
This insouciance about the Capital’s scheme of things stems from the fact that the duo have consciously retained their Northeast identity. In fact, they never felt the need to ape fashion trends. “We took up this space in Hauz Khas village just four days after graduating from the Pearl Academy of Fashion. There were no internships, no market research. We just plunged right into the trade because it felt like a natural progression. We made so many mistakes. But we learnt on the job,” says Laisom, who has been in Delhi for the last 18 years and knows the city like the back of her hand.
Yet, she is not willing to give the city ‘home’ status. “Work is here. That’s about it. We don’t have our own house also. My family is in Manipur where I go often to thrash out designs with the local weavers. There is a need to elevate the status of handloom from the seven sisters.”
It helped that their clients, mostly foreigners, were willing to give them a chance. “They understood where we came from and helped us evolve with the brand,” she says.
Hence, it’s ironical that the Sikkim lad and his Manipuri business partner named their eight-year old label, Munkee See Munkee Doo. Because, nearly everything about them feels earnest and original. Be it how they launched their label, their core design vocabulary and even how they go about their lives in the Capital.
Batchmates at college, Pradhan and Laisom set up the modern offbeat high-street label with a design vocabulary was influenced by their growing up years in the Northeast. “The technicalities came later on. Back in the Northeast, we dressed according to western trends, heavily influenced by MTV and Arirang TV. I don’t want to say it loud but youngsters there are very confident about their sense of dressing. Give them anything and they layer it up with self-assuredness. The sartorial sensibilities have a marked difference. And involuntarily, no matter how much we might try, we look different from populist look of Delhi,” says Pradhan.
While Pradhan was a heavy metal fan, Laisom, “a tomboy that she was”, used to jam with boys. “That carefree style was imbued in us. Our label reflected that design ideology. Delhi could not alter our sensibilities because we are rooted strongly to our culture. Actually, clients like the sharp, edgy clothes that are absolutely unusual. Earlier we mostly had foreign clients and celebrities. Customers were happy with one-off pieces that would ensure they stood out in the crowd,” says Pradhan, who is a voracious reader, dabbles in photography and destresses with music. Laisom on the other hand is a Bollywood fan, sharing the latest lowdown on celebrities and their fancy lives like an excited teenager.
The unease at being labeled as Delhiites is tangible. “Frankly, I am still not used to the city. I will never be. It’s just where I have my work. Often people ask me whether Delhi is home. It isn’t. We are in an industry where socializing is important but we prefer being grounded. There’s a set group of friends who we hang out with mostly in Khan Market because we are foodies,” Pradhan says. This isn’t a calculated move, this sticking to themselves, he insists. “We don’t belong to that sort of space where we go schmoozing with people we hardly know in person. Fashion is just a medium to express ourselves. But it cannot determine our lifestyle choices.”
Meanwhile, their clothes continue to grab eyeballs for the infusion of modern innovations on classics, transforming them into contemporary urban staples. Pradhan and Laisom say, “We are a mash-up of contrasts – the old and the new, masculine and feminine, elegant and relaxed, sculptured tailoring with a rebellious edge. Delhi, and India, like us this way. We are not changing anytime soon.”