One of my favourite NIXONBUI pieces is this oversized, hand-embroidered denim Chitam jacket. Based out of Copenhagen but originally from Arunachal Pradesh, designer Nixon Bui tells me that the art on the back of this jacket is inspired by an old lady from the Apatani tribe of his native state. Elaborating on the history of the Apatanis, he says “Like all the other tribes of the state, they are well-known for their rich traditions and culture, as well as their distinct facial tattoos and nose plugs. Until 1974, the Apatani women used to tattoo a long line from their forehead to the tip of their nose, and five smaller lines on the chin, while the men would get a ‘T’ inked on the chin. However, the tribe banned facial tattoos thereafter because they led to members of the tribe being easily identified and discriminated against.”
Like many other young Apatanis, who work and study in cities across India (and the rest of the world), Nixon does not consider the banning of facial art a loss of heritage. He says “This is inevitable with the passage of time and modernization. No matter what culture people are a part of, the only thing that is certain is that it will change.” Instead, he chooses to hold on to the fact that he is one of the last few lucky ones to “witness these beautiful traditional practices” that are on the verge of extinction. “This is my way of embracing my culture and trying to keep it alive,” Nixon Bui says as explains the concept behind his contemporary fashion brand.
October 18, 2018, is a landmark date for this Northeastern designer who is presenting his fourth collection in collaboration with the Danish embassy in a show at the residence of the Danish ambassador. “The architecture at the venue is incredibly beautiful and really represents the aesthetic of the brand; a mix of cultures. NIXONBUI has always been about cultural fusion; the Northeast India and the Scandinavian, the old and the new, and so be able to bring this all together for the show is amazing,” he tells me.
Nixon’s indigenous approach to fashion is exciting, and this fourth collection, the NIXONBUI spring/summer ‘19 women’s line, is a smooth blend of culture and aesthetic. “I’ve played a lot with shades of grey, a colour very central in Scandinavian design, and then built on that with accents of reds and greens that are more traditional to the Northeast,” he explains. Through this lens, he wants to contribute to social movements dedicated to redefining femininity and female identity. By including both sporty and fun and refined and classy looks in this collection, Nixon aims to reflect the breadth of modern femininity. “As a human being I find it incredibly fascinating to witness this current growth of female empowerment. As society changes, fashion changes with it, and I wanted to contribute my part to this story. I believe there is great freedom in self expression and living your truth,” he says.
Nixon’s expresses his duality in a myriad of ways– even on his brand’s Instagram page. A beautiful Naga lady, probably the happiest woman in Manipur, Morungs (traditionally built bamboo and cane huts) and the stunning natural beauty of his hometown Daporjio are just a few of the maverick designer’s many muses who influence his very contemporary, fashion-forward designs. Each collection is a showcase of the rich cultural heritage of what has traditionally been one of the most inaccessible regions in India, and working with the Danish embassy has allowed greater awareness about Nixon’s work.
“There is something special about having taking your project home, and having your friends and family in the audience, and see their reactions. I’ve also been able to invite some people i’ve been inspired by and looked up to my whole life. Even if they can’t make it to the show, it’s still a big milestone,” he says.
After making a name for himself in Copenhagen, Nixon has his sights set on India and wants to establish himself in the fashion industry here. To venture deeper into Indian markets, he says that he has much more to learn about his past.”I want to connect more with my roots, dig deeper and understand more.”
The timing of his show seems fortuitous as well, given the evolution of Indian street style– an uprising as individuals wear their identity on their sleeve, “mixing their backgrounds and aspirations with different styles or trends.” Nixon Bui’s brand will resonate with this new breed of street style, one where we are ”embracing our roots and kind of making statement out of it.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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