Wendell Rodricks: Never one to shy away from disturbing truths
At 59, Padma Shri Wendell Rodricks – a man of many talents and the person responsible for the revival of Goa’s traditional Kunbi sari – is gone too soon. As a fashion designer, he will be remembered for his unique sense of style that took as much from an international sensibility as it did from Goan culture. His legacy will be one of someone who cared about sustainability of fashion — from using techniques of indigenous weaving and fabrics to caring about the environmental impacts of fashion.
Born in a Goan catholic family and raised in Mumbai, Wendell Rodricks originally trained to work in catering, but soon realised that his true passion lay in fashion design, and he went on to study it in Los Angeles and Paris. At a time when designing for weddings was where the profits lay and ‘Indian’ meant the use of zari and shiny, baroque costumes, Rodricks had the audacity to work extensively with white, preferring cottons and linens to what have been seen as ‘richer’ fabrics. His life was as brave as his designs – he lived with his partner Jerome Marrel in Goa, braving social ostracisation and even familial rejection. In a time before Section 377 was struck down, they had signed a civil solidarity pact to ensure that they would legally always be there for each other, and lived together in Goa.
Rodricks was also a writer and a chronicler of Goan heritage and history. He has written three books, including his autobiography The Green Room (2012). His first book Moda Goa: History and Style (2012) was an exploration of Goan history, seen through traditional clothes and attire. The book is meticulously researched, and traces the history of the pano bhaju, a traditional Goan outfit, to the Silk Route. He has since set up a museum of the same name – Moda Goa – in his house to showcase Goan fashion as it has evolved over time. The museum is expected to house a collection of over 800 artefacts dating from the 7th Century AD to the present time, including furniture, photographs, costumes, jewellery, and even sculptures.
Never one to shy away from disturbing truths, Rodricks also wrote in 2017 a book about the Goan poskem, adopted children of well-off Goan families who live lives of servitude and are often victims of various kinds of abuse. Poskem: Goans in the Shadows was his first (and only) book of fiction, with elements of magic realism, and tells parallel stories of four former poskem.
Wendell Rodricks was a fashion designer, writer, curator, historian, lecturer, Goan environmental activist, and so much more. India, and indeed the world, mourns his loss together.