BOOK Designer Wendell Rodricks sets about unravelling the history of Goan costume in “Moda Goa”

Acouple of seasons ago, during fashion week in New Delhi, Wendell Rodricks presented his Kunbi tribe collection, a line that revolved around the traditional Goan checked sari but with newer shades along with the traditional red, white and black incorporated to make it match modern tastes. Rodricks recalls, “The Kunbi tribe was something I wanted to do very desperately out of a sense of shame. I used to always say Keralites have their mundus and saris, Maharashtrians have their Paithanis, Bengalis have their kantha and tanth saris. Goa had nothing; the only sari that was there was the Kunbi sari…”

History of drapes

The Kunbis have a special place in Goan costume, but history goes beyond and after that. Influenced by religious beliefs and changing rulers and colonisers, the confusing story of Goan costume is a story spanning centuries, and this Rodricks now documents in his book, Moda Goa , brought out by Harper Collins.

It's been 11 years in the making; nine years of gathering information and two of putting it all between covers. And what one gets is a run through Goan dress through the ages, seen in the context of the Konkan coast as well as happenings around the world in a chronological manner.

“I started off by being Konkan-centric because the story was the history of Konkan people, which was later defined by the Portuguese and the borders of Goa. But I still had to go to Maharashtra, Karnataka (specifically, Vijayanagara), and see the garments that the people were wearing. Apart from Goa it is the history of Konkan costume, and I started off by doing the entire coast and then finally concentrated on Goa. But by the 20th Century the world was very connected by newspapers and magazines and later television, so whatever was happening also influenced what people were wearing here. For example, when jeans became popular in America they saw popularity here too, so I had to give it the world referral point as well towards the end of the book. Then we come back to Goa, as to how Goa has grown since its liberation, the shops that opened, my work, Savio Jon's work, and how this resort flavour started. So it goes through many geographical descriptions,” explains Rodricks.

Native influences

It was the late Mario Miranda who, unintentionally, set off Rodricks on this path, asking him to research the pano bhaju, a Goan garment worn while dancing the mando, for a book. That book never got printed, but the research it demanded stoked a curiosity for more, taking Rodricks as far as the National Costume Museum in Lisbon and Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

Rodricks analyses Goan clothing from the point of view of function and tradition, observing how a Goan Christian bride's choice of jewellery is distinctly local and Hindu even when she's wearing the white gown. The role of dress in iconography of gods is analysed in one chapter, while in another the Kunbi, Velip and Gaude tribes' legacy is examined. He also delves into the lesser-known impact of Buddhism and Jainism on costume, the former manifesting itself in the form of elaborate drapes. Later, the Hindu dynasties of Kadambara and Silahara too played a part. The ways in which the Islamic dynasties of the Khaljis and Tughlaqs brought opulence and tailoring, in the form of kurtak tunics and coats, is examined, as the role of the Portuguese who arrived in the late 15th Century.

Goa's position as an important port of trade saw many curious aspects, as Rodricks notes how the pineapple that foundits way to Goa via the Portuguese became an important motif in jewellery! “Also, the Goan goldsmiths were the first Indians to leave for the coasts of Europe because when the Portuguese came they realised their artisanship was of such high standard,” says Rodricks.

Eighteen-year-old Mark Sequeira has taken most of the photographs used in the book, while for sourcing old photographs Rodricks put out word on the Internet asking people to send in old family photographs.

During research, the biggest hurdle came because of the Inquisition, due to which a big part of the archives were destroyed. Here, Rodricks says, the snippets that travelogue writers like Pyrard de Laval wrote about what people wore and what happened at that time came in handy.

An important aspect that the designer is keen to emphasise is how the concept of Indo-Western clothing had its origins in Goa. “In the end, we had a difficult relationship with the Portuguese and they were our colonisers, but what I finally realised when we use the word Indo-Western very loosely is the fact that Goa is the birthplace of the first Indo-Western garments.” The Portuguese arrivals found their velvets and silks unsuitable for the hot climate of Goa and started borrowing local elements, like the flowing robes of the Bijapuris, while retaining a few of their own. “So we also saw things that we liked from them — we liked the waistcoats, for example, we liked their shoes.”

In the end, what made an impression on the author was people's tenacity. “When I finished the book the most surprising thing I realised was that though the Inquisition tried to eliminate native clothes, they did not succeed because the Goan people somehow managed to hold on to some parts of their clothing or ritual. After the liberation of Goa, we see that people went out and started to wear Indian clothes with a lot of pride, which they had been deprived of for 450 years.”

Moda Goa, priced at Rs. 3,999, will be launched in Delhi on February 1.