Mumbai: Fashion designer of international fame, author, environmental and gay rights activist, philanthropist!
59-year-old Wendell Rodricks died after he collapsed at his home in Colvale village in Goa on Wednesday. The cause of the death is yet to be ascertained and a heart attack is suspected.
Born in Mumbai, Rodricks studied fashion designing in the US and France from 1986 to 1988. He is often credited for pioneering the concept of 'resort wear' when it was not a popular notion in India.
The sudden demise sent shock eddies across the world of fashion, glamour and activism; he wore all these hats but what people most remember the Padma awardee is for his ability to touch people's lives.
Filmmaker Onir told FPJ he was distraught and could not believe the ace designer has passed on. “Anyone who met him even briefly came under his spell. The kindness and warmth in his heart unfailingly left a mark,” he said, remembering the week he spent as Rodricks' guest in November last year.
“He was consumed with little else but the Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre. He took me around room to room showing me all the work which had been done and knew so many of the objects, artefacts, books and trinkets just like that.
He knew the backstories and spoke passionately about the display plans. It breaks my heart to think he will not be around to see it.”
His sentiments find an echo in senior actor and yesteryear model Kalpana Iyer who spoke to FPJ from Dubai. “I can hear my heart pounding and my hands and feet are trembling to think what a big blow this is.
I had promised to go to Goa to spend time with him but it kept getting pushed off. I was looking forward to the opening of the museum hoping I'll be able to meet him then,” she said and added with a sigh, “Now it will never be. I will carry this hole in my heart all my life.”
The Goan raised in Mahim pursued catering initially. But the 22-year-old's heart was elsewhere and he moved back to pursue fashion, getting formally trained in Los Angeles, Paris, Lisbon and New York. Known for starting a minimalist trend, Rodricks went on to give the world of fashion some of the best templates for resort wear and eco-friendly garments.
His pride in India's textile legacy unfailingly reflected in his work and he never forgot the maxim, “Put India in your clothes,” which he was told in his first stint in the French capital.
It was this passion that saw him revive the traditional Goan ‘kunbi’ sari a decade ago convincing even the likes of former President Pratibha Patil, Priyanka Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi to wear and endorse them, leveraging this visibility to help weavers.
As a promoter of khadi, he took the Gandhian fabric to world's largest organic fair, BioFach, at, Nuremberg, Germany, soon after. Mumbai-based celeb favourite Payal Khandwala, a Rodricks' mentee (who had an unpleasant and very public altercation with the latter in March 2018 after he charged her with plagiarism) also told FPJ she was saddened with the news of her mentor suddenly passing away.
“In spite of our differences in the recent past, I've always held him in high esteem as a teacher and designer. This is a big loss not just for his family and friends, but also his students and the entire fashion fraternity. He is in my thoughts and prayers.
His sharp wit, humour, talent and generosity will certainly be missed.” Prominent voices in the LGBTQIA movement also condoled Rodricks' death. Director of Kashish, India's only mainstream queer film festival, Sridhar Rangayan, told FPJ:
“It is shocking to learn of Wendell Rodricks' passing. The news is yet to sink. Just a few days ago we interacted. He chose the winner of the Kashish's poster contest two weeks ago. I can't yet believe this is true,” and added, “He was a giant of a man full of compassion and love. A champion of LGBTQ community rights, he led by example. We've lost a great human being and a very dear friend. I join the entire Team Kashish in mourning his demise.
”Others like equal rights champion Harish Iyer remembered how Rodricks challenged Goan authorities for cutting down trees for road-widening in his village. “After he lost his pets in quick succession he had adopted two Indian breed puppies and it saddens me to think how they will miss his love and affection.”