The flavours of Goa coupled with Indian geometry define Wendell Rodricks. It is not just the creations of Wendell that speak of purity, fluidity and sanctity; they also reverberate through his personality. Among the over-embellished excesses of Indian fashion today, Wendell’s spare designs in pristine white speak volumes about his sensibilities. Bluntly putting across the technical definition of fashion, he says that it is when a large group of people wear a particular style of clothing. “Be it the minis in the ‘70s or maxi in the ‘60s and today leggings are a rage. I don’t like the word ‘fashion’. I prefer to use ‘style’,” says Wendell, sparking off a candid conversation.
Wendell had the audacity to put linen and cotton on racks when designers were playing zari and gota . In love with white, his collections seem to flow like a Goan breeze. His dexterity was evident in the Gireban collection as well which was showcased at the ongoing The Everlasting Flame International Programme celebrating multicultural ethos of the Zoroastrian community. “White is my colour and I am not going to get rid of it. Nobody can take it away from me,” Wendell declares. White means different emotions to different people. For Wendell white is the colour of South. “I consider Goa a part of South India. For expressions, cuts and experiment with shapes, white is the best colour,” he elaborates.
Both a pioneer and a revivalist, the couturier is one of the rare fashion designers who is bestowed with Padma Shri. “When I got it, I saw they put me under the category of art and in brackets wrote fashion designer. This way they elevated fashion design to arts. I was happy for myself, but more for the fashion fraternity as it went up a notch in and also set the ball rolling,” recollects the designer.
On his fascination with Goa, Wendell says, “Nobody can do Calcutta better than Sabyasachi, Kashmir better than Rohit Bal and nobody dare do Goa better than me.” However, this was not always the case. Recollecting his initial struggles after studying in Los Angeles and Paris, he shares an incident that happened in the French Capital. “When I went around with my first portfolio in hand, hoping to get a job, a lady at a store smiled looking at my designs and said, ‘it is obvious you will be a good designer as you have talent. But, why can’t I see your country in your clothes?’ It was that moment when I realised that I have to put India into my clothes. I needed to go back.”
“I have broken many rules,” he laughs. He looked at patterns in a way no one else did. “Initially, when people saw an asymmetric hem, they questioned, ‘ yeh hem toh idhar se udhar ki ore jaraha hai ’ (the hemline is going from one direction to another). But, I took it from the Indian sari whose drape goes in a diagonal line. So, for them I was breaking a rule but for me it was an inspiration.”
Talking about his team, Wendell says every season he sits with his studio staff and discusses about what is being done and what needs to be done. “I explain every detail. If I need a garment that literally flies like the Goan breeze on a beach, they themselves initiate and make the hemline so baarik (thin) that it flies but at same time ensure that we can control the flow.”
He advises youngsters to try and weave local fabrics and create something new in terms of designs. “Take designs out of your own culture, heart and soul and present something new that makes you stand out from the rest of the world.”
Wendell also set the path for open discussion on individual sexual preferences. He has been happily living together with partner Jerome Marrel in Goa. “Either you are truthful about yourself or you become a hypocrite in society. There is no point in marrying a girl and destroying her life by producing one child. I am very firm about it. The State has no right to peep into my bedroom.”