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Beyond the class menagerie

It's time fashion struck a democratic stance, says designer Wendell Rodricks who unveiled his new line at Studio Saks

DURING A conversation with Wendell Rodricks, you can't avoid traversing different moods — sometimes placid, sometimes restless, sometimes serious and sometimes fun. In basic black shirt and trouser, scruffy mane and work-weary look, you'd hardly associate the persona with the relaxed, show-stopping styles he creates. But get talking and the true Rodricks emerges — one who is committed to being a viva glam spokesman in more ways than one.

In Chennai recently to showcase his new line "Fashion Democracy" at Studio Saks in Gopalapuram, Rodricks said, "Sketches and scissors are fun. But there's also my other passion — fashion writing. Besides the many columns I do for journals and newspapers, I'm also giving finishing touches to my book on the costumes of Goa."

"There's more to Goa than beach-side shacks, liquor and raves. There's a whole indigenous culture that's too rich to be ignored,'' smiled Rodricks, for whom Goa has always been the muse. "It means everything to me — peace, creativity, inspiration... ."

Even his latest line Fashion Democracy for instance, was a refreshing spin-off of the spring festivities in Goa. "Yeh, it's relaxed, it's colourful, it's Goa. Practicality has also been a leitmotif of my collections. Designers are moving away from anorexic models. The focus now is on couture for `real people' — people of different heights and sizes. And that's why women from different walks of life do the catwalk at my shows. And as far as pricing is concerned, it's anything but haute. Fashion is not the privilege of a few."

As the likes of Nina Reddy, Vidya Singh et al walked the ramp at Saks, it was evident that Rodricks is a fashion original. Imagine pre-pleated, slip-in saris or pallus with innovative shoulder holes to hold the sari right! "Wow!" screamed some fashionable types who had till then thought saris were for the squeamish. "The designs and colours are local, yet there's something about the styling that's global in appeal. And that's why I call them Indo-International," grinned Rodricks.

Colour on white, white on colour or even all-white... the designer is known for his penchant for white. What made Rodricks turn to striking hues this season? "Well... it's nice to do something that's surprising. The spring festivities of Goa being the creative spur for this line, I had to use plenty of colour. There are contrasts too. Notice the way earthy brown is used with fuchsia. Yes, the pink jumps out, but doesn't scream." Other haute hues include acid yellow, kumkum red, bright green and peacock blue. It's dull versus bright, what with bland hues thrown in to offset the effect of eye-popping colours.

Known for his trademark fluid cut, Rodricks sharpens his act with chic layering and asymmetrical hemlines. And the fabrics — silk crepe, chiffon, georgette, organza and lycra, only enhance both — his form-fitting and deconstructed styles. "Cut is crucial to any creation. Style weighs heavily on cut. And ultimately it's style that counts, not fashion. The former is a personal expression, the latter, simply what everyone else follows."

Rodricks, who began his career in the hospitality industry, was motivated by a guest at a hotel in Muscat. Fascinated by his sketches, she asked him to pursue fashion in a serious way. "Design was in my mind ever since I watched Julie Andrews bring down the curtains to stitch clothes for the kids in `The Sound of Music.' The scene remains etched in memory." Though design was a dream, it was thanks to the guest at the hotel that Rodricks actually turned to his passion. From then, his has been a profile in perseverance. From the sidelines of Goa to the main street of Indian fashion, "It's been a matter of sweat. The fashion world is an intensely competitive cauldron. Minus the frills — then it's only talent and the will to make it that matter." And in his case too, it was talent and staying power that helped pique the interest of high-profile stores that pride themselves on sniffing out the next big thing in fashionbiz.

Happy to witness the brisk bookings that went on after the show, Rodricks remarked, "When I came to Chennai, I wasn't sure about how my clothes would be received. Now it just looks like fashion is at last reaching out with its democratic stance."

Well-done Rodricks, it's time designers look beyond the class menagerie.


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