Norden Wangdi, 37, remembers his mother dressing up in the traditional Sikkimese long dress, the Baku, for every formal occasion even though the family has spent most of its time in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. “My father even used to help her straighten out the folds. Most of her Bakus were made from Chinese silk brocade and looked very elegant.”
A year ago, when he and his wife Aparna,33, decided to launch their label in Sikkim and opened their first store, Ollatin, in Gangtok, they thought it was about time that they looked at this traditional dress, albeit with a twist. “Women in Sikkim, Darjeeling, Bhutan and Ladakh wear this traditional dress, but not many in the north or west India are exposed to the beauty of this garment. That’s why we decided that we would work at bringing this silhouette to life in other parts of the country,” says Aparna over the phone.
Among the first things the duo decided to do with this garment was to move beyond the usual Chinese silk brocade and work with different weaves instead. “We chose Banarasi silk for our first line of Bakus. It is not that we will not use other weaves, like Kanjeevaram silk, but because we are Delhi-based, we are more influenced by the weaves from this part of the country,” explains Norden.
They also decided to incorporate ‘sitare’ work and sequins, usually seen on traditional north Indian outfits on the Bakus in a minimalistic way. Most of the embellishment was used on the back flap and lower hem of the Baku.
Cross-cultural: Aparna and Norden Wangdi crafted this Baku from Banarasi silk. Madhu Kapparath / Mint; Location Shalom, Greater Kailash-I, New Delhi; Model Trishala Harichand
The Baku is a variation of the garment worn in Tibet. It was worn as a long coat with a belt called Patuka. “Nowadays, most women wear Bakus with a shirt-like inner garment called Haanju. The Patuka has been done away with and the belt is now attached to the Baku, which is wrapped around the waist, back to front. Married women add an apron-like garment called Pangden in the front,” explains Norden as we sit in his studio-cum-design workshop in Shahpur Jat, New Delhi, and watch an assistant put one of the two Banarasi silk Bakus on a mannequin. She gets the drape of the back fold wrong, and Norden jumps up and takes over. He smoothens out a fold at the back, perhaps just the way his father did for his mother.
Besides experimenting with different fabrics, Aparna and Norden say that the next step will be to work on the Baku’s silhouette and marginally alter its cut. “We’ll work on the necklines, sleeves and even the shape of the garment next.”
Though they wanted to show some of their reworked Bakus at the recently concluded WIFW, they could not because these did not gel with the rest of their collection. “We have been working on our Baku line for the last six months only, so it was not feasible this time. We will definitely show our line at the next fashion week.”
The duo, who sold all the pieces stocked at Ollatin, say they were happy to note that some Bakus stocked at Mumbai’s Bombay Electric store, also sold out quickly. Priced between Rs15,000-20,000 (Chinese silk brocade Bakus are usually priced between Rs6,000 and Rs8,000), these Bakus will be showcased at a Tibet-inspired fashion preview at fashion store Mélange in Mumbai, in December.