Fashion designer Wendell Rodricks wore many hats with equal panache. He was an avid social and environmental activist, author, chef, philanthropist and most importantly, a wonderful human being. A Padma Shri awardee, he was known for pioneering the idea of resort wear in India and for vociferously advocating eco-friendly fashion. In his 59 short years, he leaves behind authored books celebrating Goan culture, and his dream project, Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre. His sudden demise last night at his home in Goa has left Wendell’s fans, friends, loved ones and everyone who knew his art, in a state of grief. We spoke to some of the people whose lives he had touched and the art that he inspired. Their memories of Wendell paint a vibrant portrait of a talented designer, colleague, and friend like whom there was truly no other.
Wendell as a designer.
Designer Malini Ramini reminisces, “His talent, his clothes, my God! You know, he was the first resort wear designer in India. He kind of paved the way for all of us. He started his label in 1985, way before anybody else. He cut everything and did everything by himself. I mean, I can’t do that. He was multi-talented and just packed it all in. God gave him all these gifts. He was the best ambassador you could have for Goa.”
“My happiest memory of Wendell is from LMIFW S/S 2020, the last Fashion Week that he showed at,” shares FDCI head Sunil Sethi, “His excitement every time he showed a collection was as if it was his first time. In a way, he was such a good mentor to Schulen (Fernandes). He always gave credit where it was due. A few weeks ago he texted saying - ‘Jerrome (his partner) is the captain and Schulen is my star’ because one is working on Moda Goa Museum and the other is working on his upcoming show.”
“I remember he made these organic, flowing seashell-like clothing and I used to associate that with him,” adds designer Rina Dhaka. “What I think was very remarkable about his journey as a designer was that he was able to pass on the reigns of the brand to grow, it is very difficult for anyone to give away their baby.”[instagram]https://www.instagram.com/p/B8eclunAzJW/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=loading[/instagram] [instagram]https://www.instagram.com/p/B8eHjaDHsQl/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=loading[/instagram]
Fellow couturier Monisha Jaising calls the designer the "Master of Draping and Minimalism". She says, “I remember Wendell as a warm, happy and very pleasant personality. I have had the pleasure and opportunity to showcase many collections with him on the same runway in the 90s. He was always true to design and always appreciative of others crafts and talent. Wendell's photoshoot with my friends Malaika Arora and Farrookh Chotia will always be a beautiful memory of Indian fashion and me. He always greeted me with a hug. Truly, a legend gone too soon..."
Wendell as a friend.
Transgender model Mona Varonica Campbell looks back. “I remember Wendell Rodricks as a brave, courageous and incredibly kind man. I have always admired Wendell since my time as a student at NIFT. My first memory of him is when I went to Goa on my 19th birthday. I made my parents buy me a dress from his store as a birthday present. The dress cost Rs.13000, and at the time it was the most expensive item of clothing I owned. But to me, it meant something to be able to wear it. I finally got to meet Wendell many years later in 2017, when I was auditioning as a plus-sized model for Lakme Fashion Week. He selected me to open and close his show. On finding out that I was transgender, he took my number from Lakme and sent me a message saying,“ You are absolutely beautiful and incredible just as you are, keep shining.” The day after the show, he had breakfast with me and my family. He spoke to my parents about always supporting me. He told them that although his (Wendell’s) father always accepted him for who he was, his mother did not speak to him for 6 years after he came out. ‘It took years for my mother to accept me,’ he said, ‘Always support her (Mona’s ) dreams. Always stand by her and help her to shine’.He always hosted a birthday party for me at his home in Goa, that was the kind of man he was.”
Wendell and Mona at the designer's Goa home.
“Whenever I saw Wendell he was always in a happy, almost celebratory mood,” says Malini Ramani, “Happy, smiling and multi-talented, that was Wendell in a nutshell. I remember how I became close to him, and how I am extremely grateful to him. He was once writing reviews for Fashion Week (Lakme) and he wrote such a beautiful one about my collection. I was so excited and grateful. He was just such a writer, you know! He was always helping you, pushing you and inspiring you. I really miss him a lot because we did so many things together. He definitely made a mark on this world. People always say that life is so unpredictable and you should make the most of every moment...and he did exactly that.”
Wendell with designer Malini Ramani
Designer Rina Dhaka also has a heartwarming tale about the Wendell. She says, “I remember we both were participating in this huge fashion week at the Grand Hotel and I was the first show on Day 1. Something happened and my hair-makeup team didn’t show up. I was going through hell because my guests were on the way and my models wouldn’t have been ready. I was having a huge panic attack in the lobby of the hotel. I remember Wendell sat with me through the whole episode and was calming me down. I really appreciated the gesture. In fact, that collection ended up winning me the best designer award in Miami Fashion Week.”[instagram]https://www.instagram.com/p/B8eKxaiFTC8/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=loading[/instagram] [instagram]https://www.instagram.com/p/B8eRgaEgvbF/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=loading[/instagram]
Wendell the inspiration.
Many have spoken about Wendell’s encouraging ways and little thoughtful actions. Be it his social media posts praising his house help for creating an organic bouquet to bursting into a musical melody to lift someone’s spirits, there are many instances of his thoughtful gestures.
Mona Varonica says, “When I got rejected at auditions last year he told me - You are bigger than this. I would always send him a photograph when I got dressed for an event and he would send me style advice like a caring father. I personally found it very hard to make friends in the LGBTQ+ and fashion community in India, but Wendell was friends with everyone, he was loved by everyone across the industry.”
Wendell’s legacy lives on in The Moda Goa Museum.
“My memories of Wendell are most vivid from the last 7-8 months where I witnessed the passion with which he was pursuing his dream project, the Moda Goa Museum,” shares Sunil Sethi. “Wendell had a bigger plan in mind not only for the love of Goa but also his love for his country, its textiles, and fashion. Almost three years of his life have been devoted only to the museum. Fortunately for me, we had been working closely for this even though we are a minuscule part of his dream project. They were going to open the museum on March 28, 2020, so this news is so untimely in that manner because all that he was striving for in all these years was finally reaching culmination. At the same time, I think he had already laid the foundation for it all, and his name will be etched in everyone’s memories for a lifetime. I don’t think many people in their lifetime are able to achieve this and he has done it.”
Wendell Rodricks may have gone too soon but it was a life well-lived and spent giving the most joy to others. His artistic legacy lives on...
By: Simrit Tiwana and Arpita Kala