Wendell Rodricks envisioned fashion as a tool for empowerment
A designer with an international presence, Wendell Rodricks envisioned fashion as a tool for empowerment. He believed fashion was meant for employment long after a fashion show was over and everyone except models could wear these clothes too. Wendell presented his unique garments, inspired by the rich Goan culture and heritage in the years he worked in the fashion industry. He has presented his designs at some of the most popular fashion events all over the world. He also became the first Indian designer to be invited to showcase his work at the world’s largest garment fair called IGEDO at Germany.
The ace designer even designed shirts with Braille for the visually impaired on request. He spent nine months on this project which came to be called the Wendell Rodricks Visionnaire collection. Malaika Arora had modelled for this collection.
The designer passed away earlier today at his home in Goa, where he lived with his husband. He had been living in a 450-year old house in Colvale, called Casa Dona Maria. In 2016, he and his husband decided to convert the home into a museum of Goan fashion called Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre. As per Wendell’s last Instagram post, work was on in the museum. The museum is meant to exhibit 800 pieces ranging from an original pano bhaju, to Reita Faria’s bathing suit (which she was wearing when she won her the title of Miss World in 1966), to an apsara found in a nearby field dating to a Buddhist monastery from the seventh century.
Rodricks was also an activist for social causes, the environment, and gay rights. He was conferred the Padma Shri in 2014 by the Government of India.
Career in fashion
Rodricks began his fashion career by designing for Garden Vareli, Lakmé Cosmetics and DeBeers. While studying in Paris, he had been advised to put “your country in your clothes”. His first collection, launched in 1989, consisted of twelve ensembles, with model Mehr Jesia. Wendell Rodricks is known for pioneering the idea of resort wear and for advocating eco-friendly fashion. In 2010, he revived traditional Goan attire of the kunbi sari. He convinced Pratibha Patil, Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi to be its patrons, thus increasing the cost of the saree from a meagre Rs 700 to over Rs 7000, for the benefit of the weavers.
He also became a part of the khadi movement, and even promoted it at the world’s largest organic fair, BioFach, at Nuremberg, Germany, in 2011. In 2016, he announced his retirement from his label, to concentrate on his museum. He handed over to his student, Schulen Fernandes, who first worked with him in 1999. In 2017, he presented a collection for plus-size women at the Lakme Fashion Week.
Rodricks often contributed to journals of travel and art and enjoyed writing about food, especially Goan cuisine. Illustrator and cartoonist Mario Miranda requested Rodricks to write a chapter on the history of the Pano Bhaju, a traditional outfit worn to perform the mando in Goa back in 1998 which then inspired Rodricks to research it in detail. For this, he interned at Lisbon and New York, learned the Portuguese language to be able to read relevant documents, and finally traced its history to the Silk route.
The research was published in the form of his first book, Moda Goa: History and Style in 2012. The designer even released his autobiography, titled The Green Room the same year. His third book, titled Poskem: Goans in the Shadows came out in 2017 which is a fictionalised account about poskem, the adopted children of well-off Goan families, who are never treated with respect, and in some cases are even victims of abuse. This book features illustrations by Mario Miranda.