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Updated: October 6, 2012 16:41 IST

Behind the seams

T. KRITHIKA REDDY
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The Green Room by Wendell Rodricks
Special Arrangement The Green Room by Wendell Rodricks

The Green Room is a peek into the life and times of one of India’s most accomplished designers in his signature minimalist style, says T. Krithika Reddy

The title of the book is a definite turn-on. So is the dramatic black-and-white photo of show-stopper Malaika Arora Khan in a barely-there “mussel top” on the cover. But for most part of The Green Room, Wendell Rodricks drifts away from the confines of the dingy backstage with nicotine, nail polish and wine-tinged walls to paint the social, emotional and natural landscapes that define his work, love and life.

During his 25-year engagement with fashion, Wendell has evolved a simple aesthetic that gives him an edge over his frills-obsessed contemporaries. It’s this linear, minimalist style that marks the narrative of The Green Room as well. Turning ordinary moments into snapshots of larger social occurrences, he loosely records the evolution of Indian fashion while chronicling his life in detail.

The engaging prologue takes you through a green room in Mumbai where “beauties are imprisoned between hair curlers and used foundation pads, their delicate skin stretched all ways and slathered with grease paint” before a fashion show takes off. Post event, Wendell is filled with memories as he goes for a walk and spots the maternity hospital where his story began over five decades ago.

Thereon, The Green Room reads like a riveting diary. His Goan bloodlines, those early years of deprivation in Mahim, his catering college days, work in Oman, meeting his partner for life Jerome Marrel, fashion education in Los Angeles and Paris, return to Mumbai to teach fashion, relocating to Goa after the Mumbai riots, the launch of his eponymous label and scaling his way up the social ladder… the raconteur spins an interesting tale of fashion and self-creation.

As the author tries to keep pace with his whirlwind career as designer, he dissects his diverse collections and relives creative moments that resulted in some of India’s iconic styles.

From the Issey Miyake-inspired debut line that was a signpost to his future oeuvre and the trend-setting Prodigale for which he experimented with eco-friendly fabrics to the path-breaking Visionnaire that empowered the visually challenged to read Braille on clothing and the free-flowing Cubist Collection that marked his re-entry into the New Delhi fashion circuit, he created a distinct identity for himself in an industry built on rapid changes. His meticulously researched revival of the Goan Kunbi sari too is dealt with in detail reminding fashion followers of his Moda Goa: History and Style, published earlier this year.

Inward look

The tone swings from intimate to reflective and sometimes gossipy when the designer presents an insider’s view of ramp shows, rivalries in the business, the politics of fashion weeks and the lives of models. He cuts through the falsehoods of the fashion world (calling it a “ridiculous circus around”) and gets into the lives of people — both famous and infamous. “Fashion weeks are heavy on entertainment. Designers become friends, bitch each other out, sleep with trails of male models… I’m mystified by designers who begin affairs with their compatriots. Any such affair inevitably ends on a sour note, with stolen assistants, ripped-off designs and melodramatic tears.”

At many points in The Green Room, Wendell presses the refresh button to recall the big names that once rocked the industry and helped shape his career — from Jeannie Naoroji, Meher Castelino and Hemant Trivedi to a slew of yesteryear supermodels and ace photographers. “People ask me what is the secret of my success: one of the key things is to surround yourself with professionals who guide you and tell you the truth…”

As the memoir moves from the chawl-like home in Mumbai to Colvale’s idyllic Casa Dona Maria, the designer surprises us by breaking into travelogue mode at predictable intervals. With the keen eye of a couturier and lyrical flourishes, he describes places, people, cultures and cuisines. Every experience seems to impact his creations — drapes inspired by the robes of Tibetan monks and garments spurred by the sails of Arab dhows. “Paris was like a cloud of inspiration… I learnt to communicate with the leaves, the flowers, the pavements, the sky, the wind. They all became my inspirations. Very soon, my sketchbook was exploding with a thousand ideas.”

The book brims with revelations — some fascinating (how Lakme India Fashion Week came into being) and others shocking (the Mumbai-New Delhi divide, senior vs. junior designers, hierarchy in fashion kingdoms, and how in Mumbai only a few are designers and the rest are actually Bollywood stylists). Without naming people, he discusses the phoney world of fashion where people like Mr. Bulging Eyes or a jewellery company owner are out to sabotage shows and careers.

Any personal account by Wendell would be incomplete without references to Jerome, his partner for over 25 years. He discusses the relationship in a tone that veers from candid to confessional. “What I learnt from Jerome was style… I also experienced standards of luxury I had never seen.” Life wasn’t easy for two gay men with different careers and nationalities trying to bridge the geographical distance. A savvy entrepreneur, the Frenchman finally made Goa his home. “But being gay is not as gay as one imagines… Gay love is still forbidden love; it is not spoken about. In public, one must resort to a glance instead of holding hands; a subtle touch instead of an embrace. But one gets used to that.

What is cruel is the non-recognition. In many countries, even after living with someone for years, one cannot apply for official papers like a regular couple can.” Subsequently, when the couple signed the Pacte Civil de Solidarite in Colvale in 2002, even close family did not show up at the Christmas lunch. “Jerome and I sat numb. The 40 kg of pork lay cooling on the buffet table. To lose your family on Christmas Day…”

The Green Room is an engaging, worthwhile read for students of design and those in the business of fashion, and a page-turner for those seeking a story about a life well lived and well told.

The Green Room; Wendell Rodricks, Rain Tree – Rupa Publications, Rs.595.

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Krithika ReddyMay 11, 2012

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