EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Wendell Rodricks, the original vanguard of Indian fashion

Wendell Rodricks and Schulen Fernandes right before their show on day three at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on March 17, 2017, in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

There are fashion designers and then there is the Padma Shri winning Wendell Rodricks, a fashion visionary whose creative genius manifests through fabrics and forms and talks to you.After I completed my last semester at law school, circa 2012, I wanted to explore a creative vocation as I wasn’t inspired enough to work as a lawyer. I stumbled upon Wendell’s book ‘The Green Room’, with a cover so captivating that I bought it immediately. The book’s jacket had a model wearing a black and white risqué creation and she looked happy and joyous, quite unlike the outside chatter of the inside world of fashion. It was obviously a glamorous shot in terms of style, but it also indicated the inherent persona and métier of the author and his creative state of being.

Wendell believes in enjoying his life to the fullest, with a little bit of discipline thrown in with his social media hour and the time for himself, his quest for honing his design craft, learning new arts and always giving back to the world.

The most striking memory that I have of Wendell is of Malaika Arora wearing a form-flattering gown, the thigh-high slit of which had me transfixed to his design ethos. The image stayed with me all through my days in the UK as a student of Fashion Journalism at the London College of Fashion, amidst all the prominent designers of the world. Every creative pursuit and endeavor of his is a lesson, be it the outstanding pieces from his design house on the runway, his eye for spotting talents like Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma as models, his culinary skills or his mosaic-like Instagram feed that ranges from travel to food, fashion, historical bits about the world, predominantly Goan life, his pets or just the monsoon spells in his beloved Goa.

It has been a long-cherished desire of mine to interview this elusive fashion savant and today, I feel extraordinarily lucky as a fashion journalist to have done just that. Here it is, my first and exclusive feature with WENDELL RODRICKS:

Your upcoming show at Lakmé Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2017 looks like it is going to break new ground with the aLL show for plus sizes. In a market like ours, where plus size fashion is still nascent and considered an alien concept, how did you come up with an idea of collaborating with aLL?  

Most will consider the aLL Primero collection by Schulen Fernandes for Wendell Rodricks path-breaking. In many ways it is. I moved the show from the 6Degrees venue to the Main Show Area as I believe the issue of women embracing their bodies should be celebrated in a literal and metaphoric big way. It is high time we realize that over 60% of women are not small or medium sizes. When we got the call from IMG Reliance that aLL was keen to collaborate with us for a show, I leaped at the opportunity because I have been dealing with the Indian women’s size issue since 1988 when I first returned from Paris. In our flag ship store in Goa, there are racks catering to Voluptuous and Voluptuous Goddess sizes. I refuse to call them Large and Extra Large. Next season we are introducing a VVG size. Very Voluptuous Goddess.

Your dramatic play with silhouettes and geometry has fascinated fashion lovers for years and your last collection ‘Cubist Rose’ was a grand illustration of that. How do you plan to channelize your inherent design quintessence to attract plus size clients? Are there any specific concepts/fabrics that you have experimented with to achieve the look? 

Cubist Rose was the brainchild executed brilliantly by my successor Schulen Fernandes. I am very proud of Schulen and what went on the ramp. This season again it is Schulen, not me, who have chosen the colors, styling, and silhouettes for the aLL Primero Collection. Schulen has the bandwidth to dress Voluptuous ladies. My contribution was only to compile the music track and supervise proceedings from afar and above. In the collection, we will break many myths regarding Plus sizes. That they should only wear black. Wrong! We have put whites on the ramp. That plus sizes cannot take bright colors and color blocking. We have proven in the collection that is a myth as well. Finally, those neutrals are too dull and unflattering. We will show everyone that neutrals like grey, can work. Apart from these, we are aiming at a collection that is a pitch above the daily ready to wear. We have a more classy, cocktail, evening silhouette for aLL Primero.

Schulen Fernandes takes a bow for her Cubist Rose collection for the Wendell Rodricks label on day three at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on March 17, 2017, in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

Your recent appointment of your protégé, Schulen Fernandes as the creative director of Wendell Rodricks, the label, is a prevalent western model in fashion. How did you decide to hand over the creative reigns of your label to a new designer and how much are you involved in the every day of it now?

These days I am focusing a lot on the Moda Goa Museum. I do go to the studio once in a way as I will always have a passionate relationship with fashion and clothing. Schulen is Creative Head at the Studio and looks after all things design so I can concentrate on other areas. I chose Schulen because she knows my DNA better than anyone. She came to me as an intern straight out of college and stayed for four years. I have total confidence in her creativity. In a span of three collections, I have learnt more from her. I feel like I am now the intern in a role reversal of the ironic process. I have time for other creative endeavors now. My new Padma Pooja Thali range will be out next month. For Independence Day we are launching the new Goa Police Band Uniform. By next month we will start on the construction work for the Moda Goa Museum. We are having a blast keeping ourselves very busy.

Many designers are concentrating their efforts on becoming sustainably conscious today. What are your thoughts?

It is a good trend to be conscious about what one puts on their bodies. Do you know the tonnes of water used to make a single T shirt? It is mind-boggling how fashion impacts the planet. Whether it is cotton, silk, wool, leather or polyester, everything we wear impacts our earth, which is why I am against fast fashion. When I sent out my first eco-friendly collection from Goa in 1993, twenty-four years ago, I had to explain to the media and public what I was doing. Now, it is trendy to be eco-conscious. I am happy for the trend.

Jerome Marell, Lisa Ray, Wendell Rodricks, Maria Goretti, Ajay Mago and Priyank Sukhija at the launch of Rodricks’ new book ‘Poskem – Goans In The Shadows’ at Tamasha on July 12, 2017 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

Underpaid artisans and craftsmen paint a grim picture of the changing Indian fashion scene today. How do you think fashion designers can improve this situation? Do you think the government has been participative enough in improving their working conditions? 

The Government does not even recognize us an industry. When I ask them why,  they say industry for them is manufacturing cars, cement, mining. Etc. so what are we doing? Manufacturing dreams? This is unfair at a time when cotton farmers commit suicide, dyers work with toxic fumes, weavers are not paid full wages and security remunerations like medical and provident funds are not paid to workers? Students pay rupees 60,000  for their annual graduation shows. At Fashion Week we are taxed for Entertainment! Are we entertainment caricatures because fashion and films are an obsession in this country? A lot needs to be done for us to be classified as ‘industry’ which has a work force employing millions.

Your previous book ‘The Green Room’ traced your journey as a creative being and your latest, ‘Poskem – Goan In The Shadows’ deals with child exploitation, a bold and grim issue. What prompted you to engage in such a sensitive issue, and do you think it will improve and change the situation of these children? 

This is the last generation of Poskem. And my book Poskem has sealed this reality. For two centuries and more they suffered and lived life in the shadows. Poskem the book gave them a long due apology. This was a dark book to write. I am glad I wrote Poskem. It will always be a special creative writing and learning experience for me. I hope it enjoys a wide audience and that someone makes it into a movie as it has cinematic potential. 

Schulen Fernandes’ The Cubist Rose collection for the Wendell Rodricks label on day three at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on March 17, 2017, in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

For a travel and food aficionado, your Instagram feed is nothing less than a go-to global reference point. As one of India’s premier fashion vanguards and the owner of a global label, how do you make the time for your cultural pursuits and writing?   

I am an extremely disciplined person. I worked in Hotel Management and the Omani Police Force. Both taught me discipline. I don’t buy people’s claim that they have no time. If you want to make the time, there is time for everything. People spend hours on social media with non-intelligent garbage. I give social media one hour a day and try to ensure it is a constructive, cultural, learning, giving experience. I give freely of my life experiences whether it is history, recipes, stories or travel. 

Whether it is one of your favorite series on Netflix, Versailles, to intricate hints of couture in your work, you seem to gravitate towards the art of Parisian costumery. What fascinates you about most things French, aside from your personal partnership with a French man, Jerome Marrel? 

I am a Francophile. When I received a Knighthood as Chevalier dans l’Ordre Des Arts et des Lettres.  I was happy, honored and humbled. I respect the French culture, their ideals of Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. Their aesthetic is exemplary. I love France. But I love Goa and India more. I am fiercely patriotic. After the Padma Shree…more so.

Jerome Marrel and husband, Goan fashion designer and author, Wendell Rodricks at the launch of Rodricks’ new book ‘Poskem – Goans In The Shadows’ at Tamasha on July 12, 2017 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

 Collecting rare artifacts tracing the history of Goan fashion under one roof for your curatorial venture, Moda Goa Museum is your current obsession. How did you decide to turn your personal home into a museum for fashion and where do you source and collect these antiques and pieces of history from?

Everyone was shocked when we announced that we were giving away our home to convert into a museum. God has been kind to me. I don’t need anything more as we don’t have children to leave anything to. Might as well give back to my state and country. Moda Goa will be a world class museum and I am going to give it my all. I have been collecting clothing and garment related objects since seventeen years. Some are donations by benevolent Goan’s who believe their personal inheritance will be seen by a wider audience, some objects we buy at auctions or from owners who would rather sell than donate. At the moment I am doing the inventory of the Moda Goa objects. I am in a happy, exciting space at the moment…to see my Moda Goa Museum dream come to fruition 

When will Moda Goa open to the public? Do you see it influencing the way Indian’s will preserve their cultural heritage like you are for Goa and the culture and history of the state?

End 2018. I have control over my life; not others. But if my actions will influence others in a positive way, it can only be good for this vast cultural reservoir we call India.

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