Farewell, Parmeshwar Godrej: Society and friends bid adieu to socialite

Two of India’s biggest names in fashion remember Parmeshwar, the style-by-my-rules fashionista

Every influential designer has a “you-have-arrived” moment. For Wendell Rodricks, it happened in 1999 when Parmeshwar Godrej wore his hand-painted white crepe saree at a private dinner. “But, she took it a notch up by wearing it without a blouse, and just like that, she made it her own,” recalls the Goa-based designer.

Amitabh Bachchan and Anil Ambani paid their respects to Adi Godrej. Pic/Atul Kamble
Amitabh Bachchan and Anil Ambani paid their respects to Adi Godrej. Pic/Atul Kamble

In Parmeshwar’s passing away, he sees the going away of a giant style icon. She didn’t just understand style, she created her own, he says.

“It’s not considered appropriate to wear a beret at an evening party, but she followed her own code of conduct,” he says of the headgear she often donned, and one that became as much a part of her image as the over-sized sunglasses.

Wendell RodricksWendell Rodricks

And she was more than willing to share a tip. According to Wendell, Parmeshwar kept a black book of contacts with everyone’s details, from the beautician to the Botox cosmetician. “She was unapologetic about embracing cosmetic technology to look a certain way,” he says.

The ultimate society host, her iconic soirees would sustain chatter for months. Imran Khan, Goldie Hawn, Naomi Campbell, and most recently, talk show queen Oprah Winfrey enjoyed her impeccable hospitality when they visited Mumbai. “In a way, her address became the temple of style.”

Unlike other society high dames, Wendell says, she stood her ground. “She was the definitive scandalous, sexy, style icon.”

'Parmeshwar had grace in abundance'
“Parmeshwar had grace in abundance; she is gone too soon. I met her first in 1999 at my debut show for Reverie boutique. She arrived with Naomi Campbell. When high-flying wives were dripping in diamonds, she’d wear one statement piece. So, in a way, she set the bar for A-lister wife fashion. I’d go as far to say, she was Mumbai’s original fashion icon. She was also very spiritual.

Manish Malhotra
Manish Malhotra

Each time she’d go home to Patiala, she’d pay her respects at her favourite gurudwara. The world saw the public side to this spirituality in the philanthropy she did, including the Heroes project for which she teamed up with Richard Gere to spread AIDS awareness. I worked with her on fashion shows for the project. We had an intimate relationship. We’d often discuss Hindi films; Karan Johar’s productions were a favourite, and she’d have very sharp observations about the style of top actors.”

Family prefers silence

Parmeshwar Godrej breathed her last at Breach Candy hospital on Monday, October 10, after a prolonged illness. Her family was tight-lipped about her ailment, though sources say, that Godrej was suffering from a lung illness and was admitted to Breach Candy Hospital on October 5.

Sources close to the family said, “Parmeshwar had taken ill from the past one year. Doctors used to visit her Walkeshwar residence for treatment. She was scheduled to go to London for treatment in October but just a couple of days before that, her situation started deteriorating and she was admitted to Breach Candy hospital.” It is unclear where she was taken for the last rites. Family members were at Parmeshwar’s daughter Tanya Dubash’s Worli home, where relatives and friends were spotted on a condolence visit.

- Pallavi Smart

The life of Parmeshwar Godrej
>> Was one of the first airhostesses for Air India

>> Married Adi Godrej in 1965

>> Has three children: Nisa Godrej, Tanya Dubash and Pirojsha Godrej

>> In 1975, Godrej designed costumes and look for actor Hema Malini in her film Dharmatma

>> Was a non-executive director of Godrej Properties since 1989

>> Also served as a director of Indian Hotels and Health Resorts 

>> Served on the board of The Gates Foundation, Gere Foundation, American India Foundation, Palace School at Jaipur, and Ananda Hotels

>> In 2004, she started the Heroes Project to spread awareness about AIDS with Richard Gere and get aid from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative


Sam Balsara, Chairman, Madison World
It’s difficult to believe that Mrs. Godrej is no more. That she was an outstanding lady is an understatement and obvious to those who came in touch with her. I was fortunate to work closely for her.

Her first brush with advertising was with brand Cinthol when she wanted to shoot Imran Khan for Cinthol in the 90s. And she wanted the ad to be shot and put on air the next day and I did. I didn’t think it was possible but I tried and succeeded. Such was her drive and determination and enthusiasm that it was difficult to say no.

She always achieved the impossible or improbable and came out with flying colours.

Post Imran, she went on to create outstanding advertising with Vinod Khanna for Cinthol shot by Shantanu Sheorey, with Dimple for Crowning Glory shot by Zafar Hai and many others.

When Khyber restaurant got burnt, she redid the interiors completely with Hussain and Anjali Ela Menon and kept a burnt-down wall intact that drew critical acclaim from the most celebrated professionals.

She was bold, gutsy, down to earth, a creative mind in the real sense of the term, and had the pulse of the common man despite the rarefied environs she lived in.

There can never be another Mrs. Godrej.

Ambi Parameswaran, brand Strategist, former CEO, FCB Ulka
She played an anchoring role in shaping the Cinthol soap advertising campaign. It was a bold move to feature male stars. At the time film stars and sports people were used sporadically for print and TV ads. Another soap, Ganga, with water sourced from River Ganges, was promoted by Govinda, the reigning star at the time. Such ideas opened up a new avenue for male consumers, since it had to do with a mundane product like soap.

Hemant Oberoi, food entrepreneur, former corporate chef, Taj group
I’ve known her and the family for three decades. We’ve (Taj group) always catered for functions at their home, the Turf Club, the US Club as well as for Tanya’s wedding. The Godrejs are foodies, and she would always leave it to me to go along with curating menus. She loved chicken tikka. While I was at the Taj, as with many old patrons, we’d send across tiffins as winter approached. This would include sarson ka saag, makki di roti, gajar ka halwa and white butter. A few years back in November, when we met around this time of the year, she reminded me, “It’s November already; I hope you haven’t forgotten my saag tiffin!” Sometime back, we met at a function in Jodhpur with Naomi Campbell, and I noticed that she appeared a bit frail. Yet, she was buzzing around, getting things done.

Tasneem Mehta, vice chairman, INTACH & managing trustee and honorary director, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum
I knew Parmeshwar well for over 40 years. She was dynamic and different but also very down to earth. She had a sharp eye for detail and flair for creating striking interiors. She and Sunita Pitamber were probably India’s first interior designers. She was close to several artists particularly Hussain.

Inputs by Fiona Fernandez and Suprita Mitter

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  • Nishant Berry17-Oct-2016

    Pam Godrej was neither an intellectual nor a classy person in real life despite all the superficial media hype. She had that typical Punjabi kuddi attitude of daredevilry, brashness and zest for life and had the resources of her wealthy husband to get things done. Her philanthropy was typical of a rich and idle social butterfly but nothing deep and meaningful. Talks abound about her wild parties and wild friends....Nevertheless, RIP.

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