Q. Tell us a bit about your early years?
A. I lived in Mumbai and was into catering. Then, I took up hotel management and went to the Middle East to work in that line. Finally, I saved enough money to get into fashion; which I was always interested in. But I had no idea about how to cut a garment and other technicalities. So, to educate myself I went to Los Angeles for a degree. I followed that with higher studies in Paris and returned to India in 1988.
Q. Was it tough to break in at that time?
A. I had difficulty with the kind of fashion I wanted to create. There was already this maharaja fashion doing the rounds, and Hollywood-hippie kitsch but there wasn’t the minimalist kind of fashion that took the abstractness, of say, Yoga or the temples of south India. So, I translated that and we made it into a philosophy that ended up being minimalist. Then we introduced concepts like eco-friendly clothes, way back in 1991. Though the initial part was difficult because I was creating garments that were different; once people understood the vision, the rest was easy.
Q. So, why did you decide to move to Goa? Weren’t you sceptical of losing out on business?
A. When I moved to Goa in 1993, I had already established my name. So, once I knew that the clothes would sell off a rack without my physical presence, I decided to move. Also, the Bombay riots took place in that year, and I felt like leaving. Everyone else was more scared for me than myself. I was happy. In fact, the first collection that I sent out of Goa in 1994, titled Prodigal, was a big hit.
A Wendell original. He recalled mid-day being one of the first to interview him in the early 1990s. Pic/Sammer Markande
Q. When you were announced as the recipient of the Padma Shri, you were on a cruise. What were the reactions when you came back?
A. I’m a mainstream designer, and I realised that after this announcement, people started looking at me differently. In a span of two weeks, I got so much more work on my plate. People always have impressions of the fashion world that it only revolves around skinny models, drugs, parties, etc. So, in lieu of that, the Padma Shri got it a lot of respect.
Wendell Rodricks during one of his previous shows. He was in town recently for a celebratory event organised by stylista.com.
Q. Does this honour bring a sense of responsibility?
A. Not just that but also a sense of fear of living up to a job that is being entrusted to you. You can’t make a fool of yourself.
Q. Are you planning to take any steps for the betterment of the fraternity?
A. I have offered the Fashion Design Council Of India (FDCI) that I would like to make Indian sizing standardised which is in a chaotic mess. One designer’s small is the other’s medium and that problem translates into the buyer being confused about what size to order and the customer being confused on what size to buy. We need to make it uniform. Also, fashion needs to get approved as an industry. We need to tell the government that we are an industry so that we aren’t made to pay entertainment tax for fashion weeks. We aren’t entertaining there; it is serious business. This must be done so that we get certain privileges that are given to industries.
Q. What is next on the agenda?
A. I’ll be working on my Autumn/Winter 2014-2015 collection, which will be showcased at Wills India Fashion Week (Delhi) starting this month.
Q. But why give Mumbai a skip?
A. Delhi gives better business to senior designers. I’m sure junior designers do very well here.
The toast of Bollywood
Deepika Padukone as the showstopper for Wendell Rodricks’ Moonlight Beach Collection in 2011.
Favourite travel destination: Anywhere in India and in Turkey.
Favourite food in Mumbai: I’m a big street foodie. If someone tells me that a street has a great Batata Vada guy, I will go!
Fitness mantra: A lot of walking and climbing. Eating wisely.
Biggest fashion faux pas: When people aspire to be someone else.
How do you start your day: I wake up and feed my three dogs and four cats.
Most comfortable in: Clothes by my label. I rarely wear anything else. I’m happiest in a kurta-shirt and beach pyjamas.
Who would you like to dress: Jayalalithaa. She needs a makeover.
Who is the most stylish man/woman: Kalyani Chawla and Rajeev Sethi
Wendell Rodricks has written two books — Moda Goa, which talked about the history of Goan costumes and The Green Room, which was his memoir.