Amid the chatter and bright lights of the Lakme Fashion Week Summer Resort 2020 in Mumbai, as the crowds swelled for the closing show of the day, came news that cast a shroud of shock and silence. Wendell Rodricks was no more. One of India’s leading designers, Rodricks died late Wednesday evening at his home in Goa. He was 59. “He passed away peacefully. His partner Jerome (Marrel) was by his side,” said a family member.
Articulate, well-read and affable, Rodricks was the antithesis of everything high fashion. Born and brought up in Mumbai, in a Goan Catholic family, he dabbled in catering before pursuing his passion for fashion design. He studied in Paris and New York before returning to India. In his first show in 1989 under his label, he presented 12 outfits, worn by then supermodel Mehr Jesia.
Indians can thank him for pioneering resort wear — only someone like him could fashion a ‘bikini saree’. While on the one hand, he presented plunging necklines and thigh-high slits, he simultaneously championed the cause of Indian weaves, handloom, khadi and overall sustainability in Indian fashion.
At the 2011 Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, he presented his take on the checkered Goan weave, the Kunbi saree. He was also among the first to do away with typical sizing labels for women in Design Space, his store in Goa.
“I believe that fashion should be democratic. It cannot be only for the rich or the super slim. In my store, I have deliberately kept this system — women there are not called large or extra-large — they are voluptuous and voluptuous goddesses,” he had said in an interview with The Indian Express.
A vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights, Rodricks, who was awarded the Padma Shri in 2014, also took up the cause of environmental issues in Goa.
His knack for spotting talent was well known. He was mentor to many who went on to become India’s most successful models, including Mehr Jesia, Lisa Ray, Waluscha De Sousa, Carol Gracias and Malaika Arora.
“Wendell was one of the first mentors of the first ever Gen Next batch. He was part of brand Lakme and was very much part of the conversations with Lakme’s Anil Chopra when the fashion week was being set up. He really helped shape the current form of the Lakme Fashion Week,” said Jaspreet Chandok, head, Lifestyle Businesses, IMG Reliance Ltd.
He was also instrumental in launching the Bollywood careers of actors Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma.
A soft-spoken man, Rodricks, however, was known to speak his mind. “Sack the stylist for this sack dress with a note that Halloween is next month,” he had said after seeing Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in a floral Giambattista Valli dress as she walked the Paris Fashion Week last year. His comments on Priyanka Chopra’s plunging neckline at the Grammy Awards this year was sharply criticised, but he held on to his opinion. “It was more dress shaming than body shaming,” he had said.
Rodricks, whose designs spoke of the Goan landscape, its soil and breeze, had put everything in his passion project — Moda Goa, India’s first museum of costume. His legacy will live on in this house of memories.
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