What Rodricks leaves behind | HT Editorial
In an age of Section 377, a colonial-era law that criminalised consensual adult same-sex relationships till it was read down in 2018, few dared to live and love as openly as Wendell Rodricks and his partner, Jerome Marrel, did. The duo began to stay together in the 1990s, in Goa. They signed the Pacte Civile de Solidarite, a French civil solidarity pact that offers legal status to same-sex couples, in 2002. The 1990s and first decade of the new millennium were violent years for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. Brutality at the hands of police on account of the law, and by birth families on account of social opprobrium and lack of understanding was de rigueur, forcing LGBT persons to lead dual lives and hide their sexuality. But thanks to Rodricks and his partner, a whole generation of queers was able to grow up with a template that not only normalised their desires, but also offered hope of a similar loving partnership.
Rodricks was a trailblazer at his work too. He often attributed his success as a fashion designer to his partner, but his own passion for sustainability and style was unmistakable. Rodricks challenged boundaries even in fashion, breathing couture into the quotidian. He created a line of resort-wear; he even designed the navy blue and white Goa Police uniform in the late 1990s, as well as stylish jackets for the Enforcement Directorate. A few years ago, he started a project to revive the Kunbi, a sari worn by tribal women in Goa before the Portuguese arrived. But this was not mere nostalgic traditionalism. Rodricks infused the sari with his own contemporary design sensibility, and it found great favour among collectors.
His was an idiom that emerged from the state of Goa that he made his home in the early 1990s. His passion project, Moda Goa, which is slated to open this year, was a museum of design and couture with more than a hat tip to Goa’s heritage. Already, the museum has hundreds of artefacts — some dating back to the 7th century — that document Goan costumes, design and lifestyle through the generations. It is housed in a heritage structure, built in the 16th and added to between the 18th and 19th centuries. History, Rodricks understood, was a meeting point for those willing to observe and learn, and he couldn’t wait to open a world class museum on fashion in the small Goan village where he and Jerome lived. Indeed, his is a legacy that will live on.