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Cut to Finish

Wendell Rodricks’ delightful memoir bulletins the evolution of Indian fashion over 25 years

Book: The Green Room

Author: Wendell Rodricks

Publisher: Rain Tree

Pages: 354

Price: Rs 595

Many Indian fashion designers are toasting their silver jubilee in the business. While a few have hosted special soirees celebrating themselves,others have announced new business ventures with international companies. All of them herald a growing-up of sorts,a new phase. But it had to be Wendell Rodricks who would pen a chronicle of his life and times in fashion. He is one of a very few designers who plays several artistic roles — those of an exemplary writer,as we have seen in his many articles,a hungry traveller and an insatiable foodie.

Rodricks’s brilliance allows him to pursue all his passions with effortless vim. Interestingly,his first published book — Moda Goa,a coffee-table keepsake on the charming costume history of Goa — was published in January. In seven months,he brings The Green Room,his insightful memoir that also bulletins the evolution of Indian fashion over 25 years.

The green room,where butt-bare models are preened,primped and readied for the runway,is actually a makeshift black room. Models and designers have developed night vision as they scurry about over the smells of mustiness,hairspray and nicotine,over electric wires and dewy floors,careful not to touch the splintered wooden boards. “The black screens are moats,” Rodricks writes,“to protect the princesses of the ramp from the outside world.” The green room metaphor works as it is a sanctum,a glamorous space and for its intransient existence.

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In less than two decades,Rodricks has become the voice and face of Goa,the land of his ancestors,ever since he moved home to an old Portuguese villa in the still beautiful village called Colvale. He has championed many causes for Goa — fought reckless development,made police uniforms,pushed cultural promotions,revived the local kunbi sari weave and brought out his marvellous first book.

But Rodricks was born and raised in a Catholic colony in Mahim,Mumbai. He studied catering at the famous Dadar Catering College,interned at the Taj hotel (where he spoke two words to J.R.D. Tata),and made beautiful trimmings for banquet tables. The childhood scenes are significant because of lessons learnt. An accidentally snorted eraser had his mum lock it away,so Rodricks learnt to make perfect sketches.

In pursuit of his love and a job,he has moved to Muscat,Los Angeles,Paris and Istanbul where he studied fashion,museums,history and acquired coveted degrees. In every city he lives or visits,he holds his Goan roots close. He has immense pride in his own cultural space,along with an immediate acceptance of and regard for the mood of every city he’s been to. In that,the book is a travelogue too.

At his Paris fashion academy,his teacher is Rose Guiret,a wonderful caricature of pushy,fashion-mad professors. “Who draw zees one? Rubbeesh? I see zat blouse een 1954 chez Dior. Quelle horreur! No deezigners in zees class,” she hollers,even as Rodricks tried to make something absolutely new.

He would become one of the most original designers this country has seen,a man whose fashion is as honest to him as it is to its craft. Rodricks made minimalist clothes in cotton,especially with a bias and a square-cut,at a time when Indian fashion was only excessive bridal wear in the garb of haute couture.

Especially exciting is how he paints the fashion scene before it existed as we know it. When Jeannie Naoroji,SNDT director and choreographer,was the last word in fashion. (Her assistant had slapped a young model making out in the wings who forgot her entry. Rodricks won’t name her but it is fashion folklore’s favourite story.) When the grand ladies of fashion-writing — Sathya Saran and Meher Castelino — took the first steps in bringing fashion to the press. When being a Garden girl was considered the zenith in a model’s career. The book is also a eulogy to models,the backbone of the business,friends and muses to the creators of wonderful clothes,who have now been overtaken by actresses on magazine covers and runways.

There’s much frankness: Atul Kasbekar made a terrible model,Suneet Varma was inspired to make jamevar jackets from Rodricks’s assistant’s piece,Sangita Kathiwada’s Melange had made and sold cheap copies of his sarongs. Rodricks is self-deprecating when he talks of his first lecture at SNDT,when he’s shown the door at Yves Saint Laurent in Paris,and when he sincerely admits he would like to leave his label and legend to a younger designer. All of this comes from a unique self-assuredness.

Rodricks possesses a sincere turn of phrase. His prose is easy and refined,and you’d be forgiven if you believed it was ghost-written. But it is not so. Rodricks has an eye for beauty,his ear to the ground and an elephant’s memory.

Everywhere in the book is Jerome Marrel,his love and partner for almost 30 years. Rodricks mentions the ills and quirks of being gay in India and when travelling. They choose to live with dignity instead of in-your-face campiness. They choose to give each other a loving glance instead of holding hands in public spaces.

What Rodricks’s book especially does is to present the Indian fashion industry as a vibrant,professional,and fast-growing mass of people that is soon going to be a mainstream voice — if it isn’t already. There is

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little or no cynicism,which is rare and refreshing among the deluge of designer ego that turns them into colossal cribs. Rodricks is positive,optimistic and grateful for his instinctive talent and many opportunities. As he is for the future of India and its creative steam.