Far In Sight: Wendell Rodricks’ Moda Goa Museum

Far In Sight: Wendell Rodricks’ Moda Goa Museum

Gel, jewel and head of the incomplete mission Jérôme Marrel on why late designer Wendell Rodricks’ dream museum project is delayed. Here’s how you can help

“A dreamer stays a dreamer. And I am one big dreamer who made most of my dreams come true. One dream was to give back to Goa, society, state and country. Through The Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre, with my partner Jérôme Marrel, we would like to give back what this wonderful state and incredible country have given us as a legacy.”

These words (from an open letter by late designer Wendell Rodricks), familiar perhaps to those who were acquainted with his passion and fashion, today are a heartwarming study in comradeship and romantic commitment. After his premature death last year, they have been given another life by his partner Jérôme Marrel.


The late fashion designer Wendell Rodricks with his life partner Jérôme Marrel.

Rodricks’ long held dream to set up The Moda Goa Museum (MGM) and Research Centre in Colvale, Goa now defines the spirit in which he continues to live on with and within Marrel. A deeply felt emotional state, which carries over from the relationship the two shared, lined with unforgettable memories and incredibly rich material.

It determines the shape and colour, brick and mortar, aesthetic and style, the placement of art, costume, jewellery and other artefacts and how these will speak to visitors. At what was envisioned by Rodricks as a “stop on the intersectional crossroads of humanity”.

That realisation of that dream however, as a milestone, a museum of international standards and a centre of study and research for scholars and students, is far from complete. The primary cause is a shortage of funds.


Photo: Shantanu Sheorey, The One School Goa and Mark Sequeira

(L) Pano Bhaju garment courtesy Telma Costa Gracias, (R) Bishop’s Mitre in silk, encrusted with semi-precious stones and embellished with gold thread.

Scheduled initially for a public opening in March 2020, the timeline was pushed to May 2021 and must now be stretched to October this year for the museum and early next year for the research centre. The latter is planned for the second phase of development. Some of us may have read brief updates that the Moda Goa Museum will first open with an exhibition of bridal couture created by Indian designers. Even that is some months away.

Money and the Museum

The setting up costs of the 18-gallery Moda Goa Museum in Casa Dona Maria, an unregistered restored heritage building from the 1500s, in Colvale over two levels of 750 sq mt of built area was estimated at ₹11.85 crores. This is divided into built assets and land, restoration and renovation, artefacts, museum display, projected costs for new building, and running costs for the first year. Out of the total budget, ₹8.6 crores have already been invested and the remaining required funds are ₹3.25 crores.


Photo: Guillemette Feroul

Casa Dona Maria before restoration.


“Wendell was in touch with the Ministry of Culture which is currently working on expanding niche and large museums in India. Representatives even visited the museum site but then things just fell silent from their side,” says Marrel over the phone from Goa. This conversation follows a sustained email exchange over many days on the state and stage of the project. “Just before the pandemic-related lockdown, I also tried to enable funds through the Ketto Campaign (a fund raising platform) but COVID-19 affected that pursuit,” he adds.

As time went by and the date of the museum’s opening kept getting pushed, Marrel reached out to 100 people—friends, well-wishers, people with similar cultural ideas, aesthetic and taste—to donate ₹ 1 lakh each. “We have assimilated ₹80 lakh this way. Anyone can join and donate, through the links on the Moda Goa Museum website. Those interested are also welcome to sponsor entire galleries, or donate an object of heritage and value related to the museum vision or send money for the continued restoration of the building,” says Marrel. He details the many ways of enabling this project.

The Real Wealth

The museum boasts of more than 800 artefacts from the 7th century AD till now. This collection includes statues, objects, furniture, photographs, costumes, textiles, jewellery and accessories. The intent is to spread them over galleries assigned for each: Goan Gold, one on Colvale – the home village of the museum, Pano Bhaju (the famed Goan costume), traditions and customs, festivals of Goa, textiles, fashion, Christian Art, Portuguese beginnings, historical figures, among others.

The Delhi-based Eka Archiving Services Private Limited which specialises in the management of heritage objects currently works as an advisor to manage the artefacts while archival photographs are from One School Goa. On board are Arvind D’Souza Architects, the Vinsan Academy of Film and Media, Rubberband, a design firm for stationery, logo and signage design and Sancoale Technologies to handle technology. While Rodricks was the founder trustee, MGM currently has three other trustees.

And Marrel can best be described as gel, jewel and head of the incomplete mission. He has been spending great time and detail to make sure that the artefacts are placed in the galleries exactly where his late partner would have wanted them. Marrel did not know these placement clarities in fine detail but by communicating at length with Rodricks’ friends and collaborators, he wants to make sure he gets it right.


Photo: Dnyanesh Moghe, Vinsan Academy of Film and Media

Pair of 24K filigree gold cuffs. Donated by Zita Goenka.

The fully access-enabled galleries as well as the library over two levels of Casa Dona Maria will also have a scholars’ residence and an administrative zone. Besides wings dedicated to Goan mythology, gods, sartorial influences, rites of passage, Rodricks imagined the space to become a Goan cultural centre that could be rented for a launch, a dance or performances based on clothing. It could include for instance, a cafeteria, he wrote, that offered a Goan curry rice lunch based on his mother’s recipes.

A place where you could quietly sneak back to history or make a mood board for contemporary fashion and art work. A special, full time conservation department to clean, repair, stabilise artefacts for the current collection as well as to offer conservation expertise across the country is imagined as yet another asset of this museum.

Wendell From the Past; Jérôme In the Present

In 2013, I interviewed Wendell Rodricks (one among the many interviews I explored with him over the last two decades), on a curious story for Mint Lounge called Secret Couture. It was about private collections of costumes, textiles, vintage jewellery and artefacts owned by privileged but media-shy collectors that had not been photographed by lifestyle magazines. Rodricks wasn’t media shy but in those days, he wasn’t keen on showing off his treasures. That was when I first heard about his plans for the Moda Goa Museum. “I am collecting clothes and accessories for a museum on Goan clothing which include a gold embroidered bishop’s mitre (headgear), a gold coin pendant that dates back to the Knights of Malta circa 1500s, many garments from the last century and jewellery,” I quoted him saying for the story. He sent photographs for the pieces he mentioned and described them to me in great detail. When the story appeared and I sent him its link via a message, Rodricks’ responded with a “Yayyy…” adding why such stories mattered more than writing on fashion trends.

Eight years and many “fashion” stories later, when I ask Jérôme Marrel (who in my eyes is extraordinary husband material), why the Moda Goa Museum pulsates so strongly in his heart and life, he responds simply. Laced perhaps with a long and deep sigh audible over the phone. “The Moda Goa Museum is the legacy of Wendell Rodricks. He had said to me that he wanted this museum. And I replied then, I will make your museum. That’s what I am doing.”

Unsaid to Marrel, his unflinching commitment stings my eye with a tear as I close my notebook and cap my pen.

To donate for The Moda Goa Museum, visit https://www.modagoamuseum.org/. All donations are tax free as the Moda Goa Foundation is a charitable trust founded by Wendell Rodricks.

Banner: A sketch of the Moda Goa Museum & Research Centre. Courtesy architect Arvind D’Souza.