Wendell Rodricks, 1960-2020: Argumentative Action Hero

Wendell Rodricks, 1960-2020: Argumentative Action Hero


We have lost one of our own. It is time to mourn and reflect on the legacy of Wendell Rodricks

The Indian fashion industry, roughly 25-30 years old, has never had to negotiate through an obituary of a fashion designer. Collection notes, who said what, who wore what, awards, rewards, disagreements and debates, India in the world, handlooms and crafts, shooting stars, and punctured projects have been the mainstay of our drafts and stories. Wendell Rodricks knew that too well. He endlessly pounded away from that IPad of his, sending back prompt and instant replies, strong emails, urgent updates, applause-worthy incidents and those that deserved criticism and distance.

Until 12 February 2020, when the veteran designer passed away in Goa, his beloved home state, leaving behind Jerome Marrel his partner of many years bereft. Rodricks also left the Indian fashion industry with a gaping hole, a sudden, shocking absence that is not about to be filled or forgotten. This happened right in the midst of the ongoing Lakme Fashion Week, which marks 20 years of inception this season. Rodricks was among its founding architects. A principal member so to say. He remains an intrinsic part of how India mounted fashion as a business platform while centre-staging glamour.


Photo: (L-R) Prakash Singh, Manpreet Romana/AFP

(L-R) Model Noyonika Chatterjee showcases a Kunbi sari by Wendell Rodricks during Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2011; Model Jesse Randhawa in a Rodricks ensemble during Wills India Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2010.

A man of meaning and purpose, who documented history and invested in archives and artisanal legacy, who practiced minimalism as his discipline in design, who authored Indian resort wear through his label Retreat N Style that would be loved by and sold to thousands of resort-happy consumers of fashion across the world. Who valued not just what he himself had inherited as a citizen of a country, a state, and as a member of the Indian creative industry but who firmly believed that a design legacy must be passed on. In 2016, he handed over the daily functioning and creative reins of his brand to young designer Schulen Fernandes to create time and space so that he could work on the Moda Goa museum, set to open in the next couple of months. A dream he had nourished for years.

In this obituary is a sigh, a cry and a prayer. In this obituary, is a moot question: why does the fashion industry care so much for Wendell Rodricks? Then answer it with honesty and clarity.


Wendell Rodricks was the author of three books—Moda Goa(2011), Green Room(2012) and Poskem(2019).

Wendell was not just a gifted designer. He was a thinker who could envision a path of growth and noticeability for India’s fashion industry. He could spot creative and modelling talent, the highs and lows of celebrityhood, had an eye for stunning photography and was widely read. He read. And read. He wrote. And wrote. He was an author—Moda Goa (2011), Green Room (2012) and Poskem (2019) –stand for his skill with the pen. Among the most strongly argued articles on Section 377 and Indian fashion on The Voice of Fashion is the one Wendell wrote right after the Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex in India.

Warm and loving, blunt and unforgiving if he didn’t like what you did or said, hardworking and passionate, cruise-loving and Jerome Marrel-obsessed, a minimalist purveyor of white handwoven textiles and a relaxed design aesthetic, he was overwrought in his dozen and more pursuits. Wendell was to Indian fashion what a textbook is to any discipline.

He could imagine and create, cut and sew, fight for his rights, he believed in queer activism long before the fashion industry began fumbling for a vocabulary. He was as good on a design jury as he was with new students. He could teach and he could learn. He was the first Indian fashion designer to argue for an Indian sizing chart in designer wear. Goddess and Voluptuous Goddess stood for Large and XL in his clothes. He was dedicated to reviving indigenous textiles and played an instrumental role in reviving Goan Kunbi saris. That man was not just a utopian advocate of environmental protection and design copyright. He believed in action and persistence. He could be unfairly harsh at times, as we all are, but then he would reason and explain.


Wendell Rodricks during the first edition of Question No One Asks, hosted by The Voice Of Fashion, at Lakmé Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2019.

He was an action hero. An argumentative Indian. Not just a sussegado devotee who lived in a beautiful Goan house, surrounded by his loving pets, feeding delicious Goan food to his guests while pointing to scintillating photographs of actor Malaika Arora (she was among his muses) on a wall.

Once upon a time, there was Wendell of a multidinous mix of talent and persistence. Of activism and aesthetic.

Wendell Rodricks was among the five veteran designers who joined us in the first ever edition of ‘Questions No One Asks’ at Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai, exactly six months back, exactly from where I write this piece today.

We have lost one of our own. Let us mourn. And reflect why he always believed that the show must go on.


Banner: Wendell Rodricks during his collection showcase at Lakmé Fashion Week in November, 2006. Photographed by Sebastian D’Souza/AFP