Today, Goa woke up to the shocking news that its son, Wendell Rodricks had died the night before in his home at Colvale. What makes the news shocking was the fact that he was just 59 years old and on the cusp of opening what is now yet another addition to his illustrious legacy – the Moda Goa Museum and Research Center. The museum was to be his gift to the people of Goa, a chronicling of the state’s history by way of its art, antiques, furniture, and most importantly its clothing. A passionate designer, Wendell Rodricks will forever be remembered as a pioneer in the world of fashion, and as a warrior for LGBTQ and equal rights. Saying that we lost a true son of the soil is an understatement. Yesterday, Goa lost a piece of its soul.
A life to be inspired by
The story of Wendell Rodricks is one that has been told many times and has been an inspiration many times more. Born in Goa in 1960, the young Wendell moved to Mumbai where he grew up attending school at St Michael’s High School, Mahim. He took up a graduate diploma in catering after school, following which he moved to Oman where he joined the Royal Oman Police Officers Club as Assistant Director. In many of his interactions with the press and public, Rodricks shared stories of how he met a slew of famous people during his tenure with the ROP, and how that experience shaped his future. His innate love for fashion and design led him to Los Angeles and Paris where he studied fashion.
A pioneer in the world of fashion
Wendell Rodricks was many things – a writer, a curator, an actor, and an activist. But what he will forever be remembered for, is being a pioneer in the fashion industry. Rodricks started his career designing for Garden Vareli, Lakmé Cosmetics and DeBeers, but it wasn’t until he was advised to ‘put his country in his clothes’ that the world saw what Wendell Rodricks had to offer. He launched his namesake label in 1989, with model Mehr Jesia, and from then on, he was unstoppable.
Wendell Rodricks was the first Indian designer to be invited to IGEDO, the world’s largest garment fair in 1995. He was also the first Indian designer to open the Dubai Fashion Week in 2001. As fellow design member of the Fashion Design Council of India, Rodricks was invited to speak at many prestigious fashion meets, including the Paris Pret a Porter salon in 2007. But what really put the pioneering fashion designer on the map, was his idea of resort wear while advocating eco-friendly fashion. He revived the centuries-old traditional Kunbi Sari of Goa, and convinced Pratibha Patil, Priyanka Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi to be its patrons. This paved the way for the humble sari to go from a few hundred Rupees, to being sold for over 7000 Rupees, in order to benefit the weavers.
A legacy to remember
From Lisa Ray to Deepika Padukone, and Anushka Sharma to Malika Arora, Rodricks has launched a number of careers on and off the ramp. Of his many achievements, and there really are too many to list, Wendell Rodricks’ greatest legacy by far will be found in his writing, and in his museum – The Moda Goa Museum and Research Center. As a writer, Rodricks has published three books. His first was a real labour of love, where Rodricks detailed the history of Goa’s traditional costumes. What started as a mere chapter in a Mario Miranda book on the Pano Bhaju, a traditional outfit worn by Mando performers, it became a years-long pursuit in tracing its history through the Silk Route. Rodricks even interned at Lisbon and New York, learning Portuguese in order to translate relevant documents till he was finally able to publish the results in his debut book, Moda Goa: History and Style, in 2012. This was followed by his autobiography, titled The Green Room later that year, and finally, Poskem: Goans in the Shadows which was released in 2017 where he talks about the adopted children of well-off Goan families, who are never treated with respect, and in some cases are even victims of abuse.
By far Wendell’s greatest passion has been the creation of the Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre which he was waiting to throw open to a discerning Goan public sometime this year. The museum has been in the making since 1998. What started off as his house that he moved into in 1993, it wasn’t until 2016 when Wendell and his partner Jerome decided to move into a smaller place in his hometown of Colvale, converting the former 450-year-old Casa Dona Maria into the Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre. The museum currently has an unprecedented collection of traditional Goan wear, and over 800 exhibits that showcase pieces such as a bathing suit worn by Renita Faria’s bathing suit, and an apsara found in a nearby field dating to a Buddhist monastery from the seventh century.
The world mourns the death of Wendell Rodricks
As an outspoken activist for equal and LGBTQ rights and various socio-political issues, Wendell Rodricks has been an inspiration to many. Not just in his hometown of Goa, but across India and the world. His dedication to his craft and the people of Goa saw him be awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri in 2014, and Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) in 2015. As a final farewell, ItsGoa pays tribute to this legendary son of Goa by recognising a few of the many thoughts shared by those that knew him well and were fortunate to experience his love and generosity. Wendell Rodricks is survived by his loving husband Jerome Marrel. Rest in peace.
A trip to Goa felt incomplete without visiting #WendellRodricks. Such style & hospitality! I’ll never forget the exquisite meals at his homes, sunset cocktails on his boat, his passion for protecting the environment & his devotion to his dogs. Wishing @jeromegoa strength & peace.
— Rahul Khanna (@R_Khanna) February 12, 2020
— Shobhaa De (@DeShobhaa) February 12, 2020
RIP #WendellRodricks ..Can never forget the love & kindness u showed me when I was starting my journey as an MTV VJ. You literally picked me out of a bunch and told everyone I would make it. It meant so much to me as did all our chats in French. Tu es avec les anges mon ami 💔 pic.twitter.com/Qeku9Gp7mB
— Sophie C (@Sophie_Choudry) February 12, 2020
Goodbye gentle soul. Amazing designer. Friend. Had so much more to do. Died in the place he loved. A home he created for himself and his partner #WendellRodricks
— Shekhar Kapur (@shekharkapur) February 12, 2020
Your demise leaves a void in the fashion fraternity that can never be replaced. May you RIP #WendellRodricks. You will be missed.
— Jacqueline Fernandez (@Asli_Jacqueline) February 12, 2020
Too shocked and saddened by the passing away of #WendellRodricks, he was not only a legend in the fashion world but a beautiful compassionate human being. He followed his passion, through his work and his activism. He was a blessed soul. RIP Wendell 🙏
— Priya Dutt (@PriyaDutt_INC) February 12, 2020
We’re at a major loss for words. @Wendellrodricks was such a visionary and truly appreciated Indian culture and art. His designs truly were a reflection of his passion for Indian craftsmanship and heritage. #WendellRodricks #RIP pic.twitter.com/0Ye9Kczwdw
— MissMalini (@MissMalini) February 12, 2020
Of all the stories about #WendellRodricks, this one makes me feel his absence the most.
“Once these trees go, you will forget us. It’s a marker of a certain kind of life, a slow, village life. You will cross us without even knowing we live there.”https://t.co/9OZTs5UuRl
— Nilanjana Roy (@nilanjanaroy) February 13, 2020