Wendell Rodricks (1960-2020) Mumbai

Indian fashion world loses pioneering, multifaceted designer Wendell Rodricks

Wendell Rodricks — Padma Shri awardee, environmentalist and tireless supporter of LGBTQI+ rights — was best known for infusing modern aesthetics with traditional Goan influences

Fashion designer Wendell Rodricks passed away at his home in Colvale village in Goa on Wednesday evening at the age of 59. A champion of his home State and its textile traditions, Rodricks was hard at work on his dream project: Moda Goa — a museum dedicated to the history of Goan costumes, which is slated to open in March. His most recent Instagram post was a series of photos documenting work at the museum.

A Padma Shri award-winning designer and best known for infusing modern aesthetics with traditional Goan influences, Rodricks was also an environmentalist and tireless supporter of LGBTQI+ rights. An animal lover, he had recently adopted two stray puppies from a local shelter. Apart from fashion, he was also an author, and had written Moda Goa - History and Style, his memoir The Green Room, and Poskem: Goans in the Shadows.

The news of Rodricks’s death was received with shock by attendees at Lakme Fashion Week (LFW). “The entire fashion industry is shocked. People did notice a little change in his health, but nobody realised it will lead to this. It’s too sudden. He was a legend,” Fashion Design Council of India chairman Sunil Sethi said on the sidelines of the ongoing LFW in Mumbai.

Born in Mumbai, Rodricks studied fashion designing in the U.S. and France from 1986 to 1988. He is often credited for pioneering the concept of ‘resort wear’ when it was not a popular idea in India. He worked on the planning of the first ever Lakme India Fashion Week and often showcased his collections at subsequent editions. In 2010, he revived the weaving of the traditional Goan Kunbi sari and showcased the design at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week.

Rodricks is described in warm brushstrokes by all who knew him. His neighbour and friend from Colvale, designer Gopika Chowfla, said it was a shock to hear of his demise, “He seemed to have been ailing in a dignified manner.” Supermodel Sheetal Mallar, who has worked with him for more than two decades, said, “He was a very generous friend and host. His home was like an open house – a bundle of love.” Photographer Rafique Sayed said, “I could write a book about him. He was an amazing person who was supremely talented and gave me a lot of freedom. I worked with him for more 25 years.” Mr. Sayed, who had just photographed Rodricks’ latest collection two weeks ago, lamented that his friend and colleague would not see the fruition of his dream – Moda Goa. His second cousins, Mumbai-based Anil and Laxmi Lobo, credited Rodricks with maintaining family ties, “He was a trained chef and loved to cook and feed people. He would make an effort to reach out and keep in touch.”

Rodricks lived in Goa with his life partner, Jerome Marrel.

In memoriam

Indian fashion world loses pioneering, multifaceted designer Wendell Rodricks

Onir, filmmaker: We have worked together professionally, but we were also friends. And our friendship was also about being out and proud about our identities. He’s been one of the few voices in the fashion industry that speaks up. He also designed the clothes for my film [Shab]. He’d always tell me, “Anything you want to do, I’ll be there for you.” Without charging anything and he would send me things from his personal wardrobe knowing that I am an independent filmmaker. He’d been telling me for years to come and spend time with him in Goa, and this November I actually did it. He was as always absolutely loving and pampering. Knowing that I love food and he would teach me his recipes. What is really sad is that his dream project, the Museum of Goan Costumes, is almost ready. He took me through the entire house and showed me all the things he has collected over the years. It’s really sad that he won’t be there when the museum will be inaugurated. He’s always been so kind and full of love. He was such a giving person and full of life.

Indian fashion world loses pioneering, multifaceted designer Wendell Rodricks

Sridhar Rangayan, filmmaker and founder Festival Director of Kashish Mumbai Queer Film Festival: It is quite shocking to learn about Wendell Rodricks passing away. The news is yet to sink in as just a few days ago I was interacting with him. He chose the winner of the Kashish poster contest two weeks ago. I can’t yet believe this news can be true. He was such a giant of a man, so full of compassion and love. He was a champion of the rights of the LGBTQ community and lived by example. We have lost a great human being and a very dear friend. Myself and the entire Kashish team mourns his demise.

Indian fashion world loses pioneering, multifaceted designer Wendell Rodricks

Apurva Asrani, filmmaker: Wendell was an extremely kind and generous soul. When he was at the top of his game as a designer, he made clothes for plus size women, referring to them as voluptuous goddesses. He worked bravely for LGBTQ rights and gave people like me hope for long lasting same-sex relationships. He was a fine author and created magic with his book Poskem. He was a reservoir of knowledge and spoke eloquently about arts, politics and culture. He was a gifted musician, and as you can [in] this video, sang with so much passion. He was an animal lover and having observed his bond with his Boxer, Sophie, I knew her death last month would have broken his heart. But he was not the kind to mope, to stop, to give up. He marched on and fought the good fight. He was working really hard to realise the dream of his Moda Goa museum, his gift to Goa, for which he gave up his own home and years of his life. He looked exhausted from all the roadblocks that come with starting something so ambitious in India, but he never stopped being the kind and loving friend that he was. India has lost a wonderful artist and human being ... and I have lost a very dear friend. I will miss you deeply dear, Wendell. Now enjoy your ‘Summertime’ for eternity.

Payal Khandwala, designer: I’m so sad to hear of Wendell’s sudden passing... and in spite of our differences in the recent past, I have always held him in high esteem as a teacher and designer. This is a big loss not just for his family and friends, but also his students and the entire fashion fraternity. He is in my thoughts and prayers. His sharp wit, humour, talent and generosity will certainly be missed.

Ujjwala Raut, NYC-based supermodel

I have known him since I was 18. I have stayed in his house so many times, with his many cats and all the food and parties. We would sit on his terrace and have all-night conversations. His house was open to all. He introduced me to everyone in Goa. He was family.

He was a gentle soul and nothing got to him. He always kept it together. As for his clothes, he knew how to make women look breathtaking. They were so minimal. When I had my De Beers shoot at 18, I was new to the industry. He sensed that I was uncomfortable [about having men adjust my clothes; it took a few years to get used to that!]. He would tell me kindly, ‘If you are not cool with it, please do it yourself’. He never gave you an attitude just because you were being paid to do his shoot. He was almost parental, during the million shoots we did, him and Farrokh [Chothia]. I don’t think he ever made anyone’s life uncomfortable. He came up with the name for my daughter, Ksha. I’m so glad she got to meet him at least once [in Pune]. I still can’t believe he is gone. It was always good to know that people like him existed, who helped without thinking of what they could get out of you. We have to treasure those moments now. Wendell was such a gentle human being, had a lot of respect for others, valued his space, and was fun … he was a Gemini, perhaps why I could relate to him!

Neeta Lulla, fashion designer

There was a touch of humanism in his work, and his fabrics. You saw his heart in it. He was a great teacher when he taught with me and Hemant [Trivedi]. He taught very easily [a class on the history of world costumes at SNDT Women’s University] and made it a point that they understood him.

Indian fashion world loses pioneering, multifaceted designer Wendell Rodricks

Much later, he would reach out every month at least, with a message or a call. Every time I visited Goa, he would lay out a huge spread. And no matter when you last met him, he was one of those people who would take up easily where we left off. Today, you don’t see that with many people. My prayers go out to Jerome [Marrel] and his family. It is a really sad day for the industry.

Sheetal Sharma, Bangalore-based Show Director

I began my career as a choreographer with him, and he was an angel to deal with. I used to feel like a fool sometimes when things weren’t going the way it should. He would step in, make a few small tweaks and turn the choreography around. And he never took the limelight. He trusted me with his Goa Carnival show. He took Anushka Sharma to Mumbai for her first show there, and that was the beginning for her. He was a real person, a veteran gone too soon.

Nina Manuel, former model now based in the U.K.

I first met him in 1995 and went on to open and close many shows for him. His shows and shoots were so futuristic, but not in an alien way. I recall a shoot with him and Farrokh, with me coming out of a Louis Vuitton suitcase…it was fabulous! I’ve never seen Wendell stressed out. His shows and shoots were always fun, comfortable and light-hearted. And his partner Jerome was equally down to earth. Right from one of the first Fashion Weeks in Mumbai, I recall that he never had a fitting issue and knew exactly who would wear what. He had a great eye. I still have many of his clothes; they made me feel like a complete woman. When I moved to New York, he introduced me to many people. Even after my modelling years, he maintained a relationship when there was no benefit to him. Conversations with him never changed. Loved seeing his photos of his travels and his recipes on Facebook. And he didn’t just open his home to us, but that of his friends too, like Mario Miranda.

(With inputs from Deborah Cornelious, Kennith Rosario, Rosella Stephen)

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 12:16:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/indian-fashion-world-loses-pioneering-multifaceted-designer/article30805024.ece

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