Wendell Rodricks, Fashion Stalwart & a Champion of LGBT Rights

Indian fashion stalwart Wendell Rodricks passed away at his home in Goa on Wednesday, 12 February. The designer was 59.

Wendell was born on 28 May, 1960 to a Goan Catholic family, and grew up in Mumbai. He studied fashion designing in Paris and Los Angeles, and began his career designing for Garden Vareli, Lakme Cosmetics and DeBeers. He launched his own label in 1989 with a fashion show held at the Oberoi hotel in Mumbai, and has since worked closely with numerous celebrities, including Malaika Arora, Mehr Jesia, Deepika Padukone and Lisa Ray. In 1995, he was the first Indian designer to be invited to the IGEDO, the world’s largest garment fair, in Dusseldorf, Germany, and in 2001, became the first Indian designer to open for Dubai Fashion Week. He was conferred with the Padma Shri in 2014 for his contribution to the field of fashion.

Wendell Rodricks with Deepika Padukone. 

A member of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), Wendell was known for his signature minimalist style, which reflected his Goan heritage. He pioneered the concept of reort wear in India. He also advocated for eco-friendly fashion and promoted local artisanship, and was instrumental in reviving the traditional Goan Kunbi sari. Recalling the initial days of his career, the designer told IANS, “I did face rejection many times. I was disappointed not to get an internship at YSL (Yves Saint Laurent). But that led me to India and it became a positive move eventually. In the initial years I had to fight off requests to add embroidery to my clothes. I stubbornly stood my stand as I was sure my minimalism would eventually get accepted.”

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Wendell, who moved to Goa in 1993, sought to promote and preserve the state's cultural heritage through fashion, and lent his support to local educational and cultural associations. He has lectured on world costume history, was appointed as chairman of the courses committee at the Board of Technical Education (BTE) and was a member of the Advisory Board for Lakme Fashion Week (LFW). An avid writer, he wrote a column with local publication Goa Today, and has also published three books.

He was also a champion of environmental and social causes and was an an advocate for LGBT rights. His Instagram feed reflects his love for travel, animals and Goan culture, with photos of his pets, aspects of Goan heritage, and occasional musings on fashion.

A request by acclaimed cartoonist Mario Miranda to contribute a chapter on the Pano Bhaju (a garment worn by Christian Goans of Margao) culminated in Rodricks’ first book, Moda Goa: History and Style, which chronicled the history of Goan costumes and was published in 2012. This was followed by an autobiography titled The Green Room, and a fiction novel Poskem (2017), which shed light on the now dying Goan tradition in which children were taken in by wealthy families and raised as one of their own, though they had no right to inheritance and often weren’t allowed an education. Set between the ‘30s and ‘70s, the book was inspired by Rodricks’ neighbour Rosa, and features illustrations by Miranda.

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In 2016, Rodricks handed over the reins of his label to his protege Schulen Fernandes in order to focus on his pet project, the Moda Goa Museum, which was to preserve and showcase history, fashion and textile heritage, art and architecture of Goa and the Konkan Coast. In his last Instagram post before his death, Wendell Rodricks shared photos of the ongoing work at the 450-year-old restored, heritage home, which was to be the site of the museum.

According to its official website, the Moda Goa Museum was to open in late May this year and was to contain a collection of “over 800 artefacts from the 7th century AD till present date”, including statues, objects, furniture, photographs, costumes, jewellery and accessories. It was being built to accommodate 15 galleries, a library, residence for scholars and administration zone.

Wendell Rodricks and Jerome Marrel. 

Wendell and his partner of over 30 years, Jerome Marrel, were married in Paris in 2002 and shared a home in Goa. The couple met in Oman where Wendell was working in catering for the Royal Oman Police Officer’s Club. The designer chronicled his life as a gay Indian man in the '70s and '80s in his autobiography. While his family took some time to adjust when he officially came out, Wendell said that he never struggled much despite being queer since he "had a very nice family." "My dad used to say if you have to drink or smoke, do it in front of us. They met Jerome. My mother used to say, 'He's my fifth son.' I know I'm very lucky, honestly," he told India Today in an interview. Speaking about his choice to be open about his relationship, Wendell told The Hindu,“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.”

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