After being at the pinnacle of fashion excellence, Wendell Rodricks has no regrets handing over his label to a young mind. As he gets busy turning his house into a museum of Goan heritage and penning fiction, the designer speaks of life, love and his travel plans.
Wendell Rodricks is considered one of the innovators of the Indian fashion industry. Widely known for his impeccable mastery of design, his exquisitely created ensembles have lavished fluidity and pleats; he lets the design speak for itself. We can envision in his collection, his love for his Goan roots and culture, accentuated by his tremendous creativity. He is accredited for introducing the concept of resort wear in India and for having glorified Goan heritage through his craftsmanship.
He is also a perfectionist, especially when it comes to creating sensational effects on fabric. He draws inspiration from beauty in all its forms, particularly from nature. “I would not use the word perfection. We can strive for excellence but not attain perfection. There is always room for improvement. The same goes for in couture. I learnt it in Paris.”
Wendell’s designs and expertise at incorporating intricate details on fabrics are beacons in the fashion industry. We could not help but wonder if he was satisfied by his accomplishments to which he replied, “I don’t think about myself much. But sometimes when I read a passage describing me or when I hear an introduction at a public event, I am astonished and embarrassed. Astonished at the fact that I have accomplished any of the things that are mentioned and embarrassed because it is just the public perception. Am I satisfied? I am easy to satisfy since I expect nothing in life.”
Before his present calling he worked in the hospitality industry for about six years, something pushed him to take up design courses in the US and France. “My heart always belonged to the world of creativity. I did not know it would be fashion in the end. My stint in hotel management was creative too. I gravitated towards interiors, colours, flowers, and the design of a room or buffet. And eventually I knew it had to be fashion. As a seven-year-old, I was transfixed with the scene in Sound of Music, where Julie Andrews makes clothes out of curtains. To this day I am fascinated by what we can do with a simple piece of fabric. It is magic, every single time.”
His garments recount his love for Goan heritage and culture. He explained how that happened over time, “There was no ideology initially. It grew by living near nature in Goa. I was inspired by the minds behind yoga, Ayurveda, South Indian temples, Gandhi, and minimalist design. At that time these were not translated into clothes or lifestyle.” Later, thanks to Goa, he gave India minimalism, eco-friendly resort wear made with humble weaves such as cotton and linen. This at a time when Indian high fashion meant brightly coloured silk with embroidery and embellishments. “It was a gamble, a paradigm shift at many levels. Thankfully, it worked.”
To honour his contributions to the fashion industry, Wendell was awarded the Padma Shri in 2014. “I cried when I heard the news. In my head, I am humble enough to think of myself as a glorified tailor. Ritu Kumar got the award for her revivalist work in Indian textiles and design. But when they put my award under the category of Art (Fashion Design), I was overjoyed for the industry as a whole. Imagine us recognised as artists. That thrilled me immensely,” he says. His personal life has equally been, if we can say, is about swimming against the tide. His relationship with Jerome Marrel is undeniably a testimony to the solidity of a love that has defied great odds. Geography was a hindrance at times. They married in a civil ceremony in Paris. Since both of us are of different nationalities, it wasn’t just travel. “We had to figure out visas and such things to get us together. Jerome still has to get an annual work visa despite having lived in India for over two decades. I wish they would grant him an OCI card. Apart from this minor concern, I think what fueled our relationship was the enormous respect along with love that we have had for one another for 34 years now.” But for now, they call Goa their home. In fact, the story behind his Goan home, Casa Dona Maria and how he found it is chronicled in a book, The Green Room.
Casa Dona Maria will become the Moda Goa Museum by the end of 2018. He fashioned the house from a dream and intends on leaving it for the rest of us as a legacy of dreams. His home is being converted into a space dedicated to Goan costumes. He has been collecting clothing and artifacts for over 17 years now, ever since he began research for his book Moda Goa. “When that research took me to intern at The National Costume Museum in Lisbon, I realised I could open a Goan Costume Museum. Next year, Moda Goa Museum will become a reality,” Wendell says. He is penning a lot of these days. After he finished writing The Green Room, he admits gaining the confidence to write fiction. His next book Poskem (Om Books) will be out in July. “I enjoy the process and the contemplative emotion while writing.” Looks like there will be more books in the future.
While his contemporaries are predictably handing over their legacies and labels to family members, he decided to entrust it to his young prodigy Schulen Fernandes, after being at the helm for 28 years. “I am a very practical person. For a label to live on, one must think of the future and realise that there must be a professional approach to the longevity of the brand. Schulen has my design DNA in her.” Arriving at his studio straight out of a design college, she has been working with him for many years. Schulen, he feels, is a natural successor. “I am very proud of the last two collections she did.” In both Trapezoid and The Cubist Rose, Schulen showed intelligence and maturity to clothe real Indian women with just the right amount of restrained glamour and creative flourish. “I don’t miss being behind the wheel. That said, I go to the studio and potter about. Schulen passes most designs by me for approval. What I admire is that she has her own mind about the collection and the look. She is confident, yet comfortable, to stick to her guns and refute me,” he says.
When a new creative leader takes charge of a fashion house, change is inevitable. The same is, in all probability, in store for Wendell’s legendary label. A fresh perspective, youthfulness, and Schulen trying to do her best will go a long way in creating a fashion powerhouse. “Even if it goes against my philosophy, I will accept changes for it will be good for the label,” Wendell adds.
With the Wendell Rodricks label now in Schulen’s hands, the master designer has time to focus on other design projects, which he was unable to undertake. He will also have time enough to invest in The Moda Goa Museum and on writing. Travel plans will be rolled out as Wendell intends on striking off all remaining countries on his bucket list. “Out of the 193 countries in the UN, I have seen 150. Some I don’t care to visit. So that leaves me with just about over two dozen. As for the future, whatever is in store for me, good or bad, I will accept with grace and dignity.” For now, he is enjoying the view from the backseat, while dreaming of what challenges tomorrow brings for him to take them head on.