‘It’s better to be truthful than to hide behind a mask’https://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/its-better-to-be-truthful-than-to-hide-behind-a-mask/

‘It’s better to be truthful than to hide behind a mask’

In an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24X7’s Walk the Talk,fashion designer Wendell Rodricks talks about breaking rules in every sphere of his life

In an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24X7’s Walk the Talk,fashion designer Wendell Rodricks talks about breaking rules in every sphere of his life

I am in Goa,in the village of Kolwal and my guest today is Kolwal’s most famous resident,Wendell Rodricks.

Pleased to meet you.

You break many rules and conventions in your real life.

I do. I think it’s better to be truthful than to hide behind a mask and lead a double life. I live a very simple life in this village and everybody knows that I am very open about everything.

Have you faced spiritual dilemmas?

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Never. Because I am not one of those people who goes to pray to ask for something. In fact,I am so cool and relaxed that some of my friends in the industry call me Kuki — short for cucumber. During shows,everyone is going crazy and I am saying you have done everything so there’s no need to start screaming and shouting. You make the models nervous.

People like me sometimes get worried looking at the height of those heels…

Lots of things may happen. We learned this word ‘wardrobe malfunction’ about five-six years ago with (model) Carol (Gracias). If things are in the hands of a competent designer,the chance of making a mistake like that is almost impossible.

It’s a heavy description,wardrobe malfunction. It’s a broken zipper,you should say.

In this case,it was a heavily embroidered top. There was so much weight and the designer put a Velcro piece at the back to hold it up. Naturally,by the time poor Carol came out,the Velcro came undone. It couldn’t take the weight of the blouse. I would have never done this. I think if a designer is well-trained,he knows his craft. You see,I studied under the man who cut Marilyn Monroe’s clothes. And he really taught me how to cut perfectly.

And how to dress people in the minimum possible clothing…

Yes. We have fun in the studio and say,“Can we make a gown with half-a-metre of lycra?” and we did. Nothing could go wrong because I made a swimsuit inside and stitched the gown on top of the swimsuit. Pia Trivedi would walk in it and Jesse Randhawa would dance the tango in it. The neckline went all the way to Kanyakumari and the slits all the way to the Himalayas. I think that is the art of design.

I know nothing about design,but from what I read and understand from people who follow you,you are minimalistic in every sense of the term.

When I came back (from Paris) and looked around at what was Indian design,I realised there were three things that foreigners and Indians were gravitating to: one was this Maharaja kind of clothes,richly embroidered brocades and sarees. The other was the Bollywood,hippie,kitsch India,sparkling images of gods — what Manish Arora does. But the third very important part was this Gandhian

philosophy: Ayurveda,yoga,the spiritual asceticism of the south. I consider myself to be from the south.

So you came to India and you broke some rules. Tell me which ones.

First of all,I make very minimal clothes. ‘Put in a little bit of embroidery and only then will it sell,’ they used to tell me. But I said no. I also broke the rules with my personal life. I very openly came out with the fact that I was having a relationship,now 30 years old…

A same-sex relationship…

Yes. But for me,it was about love.

And you were not self-conscious about it?

I never was. Everyone in the press knew,nobody spoke about it until we signed it (got married) and Shobhaa De wrote about it. So I was officially ‘outed’. I’m glad it happened,it lifted a big burden off my shoulders. Now,no one was going to point a finger or snigger.

So when did you first find Jerome? He’s a wonderful man,full of stories.

A blind date actually. I was getting out of another relationship and I didn’t want to meet anyone. I was in Oman and someone kept pestering me to meet this guy. I said,‘Oh a foreigner,they’ll have an affair and within two years it’ll be over.’ But then I met the family and they were very nice. I thought,this may work. It did.

It has lasted longer than most marriages…

Without children. All my girlfriends say,‘You guys lasted so long,I would have left my husband if it wasn’t for the kids. What I have is remarkable and I wish everyone had it.

Did you ever think of raising children?

No. I would make a bad parent. I can babysit for two hours,but I don’t think I could take on the responsibility. The child would be spoilt and dressed in Wendell Rodricks couture from day one. I don’t think I would want to expose her to some of the things that happen in the industry. And I am saying her,because I would have adopted a girl.

So what are the things that you would not expose your child to in the industry?

It’s the regular things that plague Indian society — drugs,intoxication,this whole modern lifestyle. We have some beautiful girls and boys as poster images of such habits,though,honestly,it’s a very small percentage.

Tell us about your shaitaani days in Goa…

We used to take photographs of models. We would take the girls out into the hills and take erotic photographs. They didn’t mind and we were happy. (But) there was no place to publish them because nobody would dare publish them. So they are all hanging on my wall.

I think you should ticket it. Someone may hit you with entertainment tax after that. Fashion shows in India have to pay entertainment tax.

Yes,including student fashion shows.

You mean,college fashion shows?

Yes. I can understand if it’s one of those whisky tours or a sponsored one,but as an industry,we are not recognised and I wish the government would realise that we are not only a core group of 50 designers. There are many others involved. They have to recognise us.

You have dealt with very interesting people. How about we spend some time speaking about the most interesting people?

My first interaction with glamour was with my photographer friends,Rafique Sayed and Farrokh Chothia. They learned about clothes,while I learned about lighting,angles and how to make women look beautiful in the camera. I think Malaika Arora Khan is seriously sensual and sexy. She has an aura about her,the same that I saw in Bipasha Basu when I did the costumes for Jism. She had fabulous energy.

One person who really touched my life is someone called Professor Acharya. He is blind and he told me,‘why don’t we make tee-shirts and put Braille on them?’ He had sight when he was young and now he would put on a shirt and ask his wife its colour. It was an exercise in frustration. I began wondering how to help him. Eight months later,I put Braille on the clothes in French knots and pearls,sent him a piece and asked if he could read it. He said,‘Yes,it says Wendell Rodrick’s visionnaire collection,white colour,size medium.’ People think we just show clothes on the ramp. This incident changed my life.

Do you have a Farrokh Chothia story? You must have had lots of fun together?

We are brothers in arms. Farrokh used to say my clothes are very plain. He would wonder how to bring out the sensuality of the fabric. So we used to shoot in a way that it looked sexy. He would joke that I always dressed the model beautifully,with a pant and a backless tunic,and he would say,‘Can we lose the pant? It would look better.’ And it did look better. The editors would fight over the pictures.

Have you done your ranking of beautiful girls and guys?

Give me a few names who compete for the top spot.

Arjun Rampal has international star quality,Deepika Padukone is beautiful. During her initial days,her mother would ask,‘Are you sure about this?’ I said,let her give it a shot. She became famous so fast.

But be it modeling or Bollywood,boys have a tougher time.

They get worse deals than the women,lesser money for endorsements. I know a top-notch couple where the husband gets hardly one-fourth of what the wife gets for advertising the same kind of watch.

Any favourites among designers?

I take my hat off to people like Rajesh Pratap (Singh) who stays on top of technology,I like what Manish Arora did for Indian fashion; I like Sabyasachi. Tarun (Tahiliani) was at Cannes this year. I respect anybody who invests money in fashion,because it’s a very difficult business and you would be safer investing in the stock market.

How come,you haven’t told us any Aishwarya Rai stories?

Aishwarya,unfortunately,is very misunderstood. She is a nice,middle-class girl who has maintained her values and has always been clear about what she wants or doesn’t want to do. She cut that boundary between (being) Indian and international,and nobody gives her enough credit. She is a fantastic star.

And Lisa Ray,your favourite of all times?

A very brave girl. Always on top of technology,she was the first one who put us on Facebook. Lisa has won the admiration of everyone by combating what she has. I am so happy that after that,she got married to a very nice man.

Do you think of doing something for the LGBT community?

India still hasn’t quite evolved in terms of sensitivity.

I do as much as I can by being the voice of the community. I am not comfortable talking about sex,but am very comfortable talking about gay love. I keep getting requests from television shows to appear on panels,but I refuse since I do not think I should speak on something I am not an expert of.

It’s the lack of self-consciousness on the part of people and stars like you that is making it a non-issue.

It’s a private thing. I am having this conversation with you and I don’t want to know sexual details; neither do you. But many years ago,it used to be,‘Oh my god,I wonder what they do in bed.’ That question,I think,no longer pops up in the younger generation’s mind.

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That’s what makes you unique — you are so candid and happy to talk about life as it is.

Cheers!