New Delhi: I caught up with celebrated Indian designer Wendell Rodricks who was in town for the promotion of his autobiography 'The Green Room'. Charming and honest to a fault, Rodricks sat down for a candid chat describing his growing up years, the people who changed the fashion industry, the business of fashion, his pet peeves and his open homosexuality. Here's the last of my two-part interview with him.
Being gay, family and life
Rodricks, who is openly gay and has a partner close to thirty years now, spoke about being homosexual in the 70s and 80s and a charmed life blessed with understanding friends and family.
Have you been completely honest in the book?
"I don't think I could get more honest than that (the book). I wanted to create an account of my life which positively reflected my industry because there are some wonderful people there," Rodricks, who admitted to "an elephant's memory where names and events are concerned", said.
His companion Jerome Marrell is partly responsible for the epicurean lifestyle depicted in his book. "Jerome collects menu cards and frames them. That's how I remember every restaurant we ate in and every bottle of wine we drank," Rodricks said.
"My friends and sometimes even complete strangers said they really fell more in love with Jerome after reading the book. I know he comes across as this benign guardian," he said, laughing.
However his public outing wasn't pleasant. Despite knowing his sexual orientation, his family "were kind of scared off" when the time came for him to come out. "I could take an outing, I don't think they could," he said.
But he's never had a problem being gay in the 70s and 80s. "I never had a problem since I had a very nice family. My dad used to say if you have to drink or smoke, do it in front of us. They met Jerome. My mother used to say 'he's my fifth son'. I know I'm very lucky, honestly. But I was never flamboyant and flashy."
When I pointedly looked at the tattoos on his neck and fingers, Rodricks laughed. "Oh these? These tattoos happened when I was 40 years old."
How has fame affected him?
No competition with western brands
Rodricks maintained that there was absolutely no competition with Western brands making a foray in the Indian market.
"What are we buying from them? Yves Saint Laurent perfume, Chanel beauty products? A middle class person can't afford a Hermes sari anyway, I'm not sure even many rich people can either. You'll get five Kanjivarams in that cost. India is a brand market for their consumer products that are beyond clothing. They are looking to sell a pair of sunglasses by Versace. No one will buy a large chunk of clothing. Where in India will anyone wear a Chanel jacket for heaven's sake? But they will buy a Chanel perfume, shoes and bags.
"The real people who have the money will not buy anything here anyway, because of so much duty added on. The retail outlets had always existed, now they have become more accessible."
Tutored in Paris, he's changed fashion in many ways.
"I'm a minimalist designer working with eco-friendly dyes and fabric. I'm more resort. So many times I have heard in my career "thoda sa embroidery daal do bik jayega" (put in a bit of embroidery, it will sell). Until I came along high fashion was brightly coloured silk with embroidery. I put dull black, grey, khaki and white on the racks when I started my career - drastically different from what everyone was showing," he said.
"Thirty years ago, nobody wanted to dress like Govinda," said the man who has toured 150 countries out 190 registered with the United Nation.
Aishwarya and Sushmita brought fashion to Bollywood
Rodricks, who has worked with some of the country's top models, said he has seen the way organised fashion took over Bollywood over the years.
"Aishwarya and Sushmita brought in their armies of hair stylists, makeup artistes and personal stylists. They didn't want that girl called Dolly to touch their face. Aishwarya wanted (celebrated makeup artiste) Micky Contractor. Ash and Sush took the whole fashion industry to the film industry. Now if you see Saif, Aamir, etc, people want to copy them from their hairstyles to their shoes," he said.
Rodricks lectures on world costume history and has written on fashion. He started as a catering graduate. In has made two film appearances - in Boom and Fashion. He was the first India designer to be invited to IGEDO (the world's largest garment fair) and to open the Dubai Fashion Week. Goa is a recurrent theme both in his collections and in his book. He is settled in Colvale village of North Goa. Rodricks is credited with putting Goa on the fashion map.