‘If a shy, gay man born in a Bombay chawl can see this fame, anyone can’

WENDELL Rodricks’ inspirational personal arc and disciplined engagement with his craft make his autobiography an engrossing read. The 52-year-old fashion designer discusses The Green Room with Ajachi chakrabarti.

Wendell Rodricks
Wendell Rodricks

When does one decide that it’s time to write a memoir?
I thought I’d write an autobiography later, maybe 10 years from now, but the opportunity presented itself. Other designers are doing retrospectives, and I was pompous enough to think a book would be more cerebral. I was worried that some things that were being perpetuated about me would go down in posterity. If I am truthful, accept all my flaws as well as my victories, and state it without getting emotionally involved with myself, I could guard against self-indulgence. There were moments when I was skating on thin ice because I spoke about every collection I did. That was a slight indulgence.
Is this your personal story or a history of fashion?
At least a quarter of it is about the fashion industry. I wanted to tell a story of inspiration. Throughout my career, I’d come home and say, “Pinch me, I’m dreaming.” If I, as a shy, stuttering, gay man born in a Bombay chawl could see this fame, anyone could.
Is the perception of fashion as an industry ruled by egos and scandals accurate?
I have seen the real Page 3. But then I go to a party in my village, and there’s a rich person showing off his car, and an auntie from the Gulf doing her thing. Fashion and cinema get a spotlight because of the spotlight they already have. There’s talk about cocaine in the fashion industry, but there is cocaine among bankers, corporations and the media. Every profession has the same cast of characters.
How has Goa affected your sensibilities, your method?
If not for Goa, I wouldn’t be able to give this country minimalism, or resort wear, or eco-friendly clothes. It was Goa that gave me that inspiration, as a result of being close to nature and being with people who did not care where I came from. In fact, my staff had no idea I was famous till they saw me in the papers. But it didn’t affect them. That is what Goa gave me: a very real life devoid of flattery and sycophancy.
THE GREEN ROOM Wendell Rodricks Rupa & Co  380 pp; Rs 595
Wendell Rodricks
Rupa & Co
380 pp; Rs 595

Your book talks about your partner Jerome, but doesn’t discuss the struggles of coming out.
That’s because I did not have any struggles. I was honest with my family from the beginning. When I introduced them to Jerome, they accepted him because he is a solid person. If I had an outing of sorts, it was Shobhaa Dé writing about it. That spooked my family. They were fine with the larger family knowing, the colony knowing, all of Mahim knowing, but suddenly going out into the public arena was a shock.
You are planning to write a textbook on cutting cloth.
You see students trying to cut a garment, they are going crazy because it is based on this obscure method that requires a lot of mathematical calculation, and all fashion designers are terrible at math. I can throw a pair of scissors to barely half a dozen designers today who will be able to cut a garment in 10 minutes. Indian tailors have a method in their head and they cut in a certain way, but if you ask them what that method is, they won’t be able to tell you. I’ve stumbled upon a formula. If you watch me cut in that method, even you’d be able to cut clothes.
Why isn’t the fashion industry thinking about techniques and disseminating them?
They’re too busy making money (laughs). I think there is a lot of scope for research, if the various levels of this industry come together on one platform. If I could write a book like Moda Goa, I’m sure other designers can do a better job with their states. Nobody can do Kolkata better than Sabyasachi (Mukherjee) and no one can do Kashmir better than Rohit Bal. The problem is that like everything else in India, there is very little R&D. We need to constantly update our syllabus.