Wendell Rodricks is a cultural revivalist with a cause. Conferring the sole status of just a fashion designer to Rodricks, a Padma Shri winning Indian icon, would be a tad indecorous. His is a career of many fashion firsts – from exhibiting a sustainable collection, that’s du jour today, back in the 90s, to being an advisory voice and key player in the first edition of LFW (2000) to working with white cottons and linens to reviving the Goan Kunbi cotton sari weave to writing incisive books on fashion. Rodricks was the first Indian designer to open Dubai Fashion Week (2001) and today, he’s turned into a museologist, converting his private residence into the Moda Goa Museum for all things fashionable and cultural to the state. This Goaphile is doing it all, the aLL Primero collection for plus sizes this season being yet another first in his exemplary career.
The aLL Primero show is the first of its kind in India for plus-sized people at LFW in Mumbai. Does the line adhere to the minimalistic métier of your label?
The aLL Primero Collection by Wendell Rodricks is the first Plus Size line to be shown in a Main Show Area at Fashion Week, bringing it to the public’s attention. The line is similar to our label in terms of minimalism. There is no embellishment, very little sparkle and the aesthetic is in harmony with the Wendell Rodricks philosophy of design. I believe in fashion democracy – it is for everyone, no matter what age, colour or size. In fact, when we showed the sketches to some of our clients, they wanted to buy them in regular sizes too. I am confident of the Primero line doing very well at LFW and in the aLL Plus size stores. When I see the unnecessary drama and chaos in fashion, I’m amazed and amused. The sycophancy, paranoia and insecurity are surreal. For God’s sake, we are just glorified tailors, not Messiahs of a new religion!
How did you and your label’s creative director, Schulen Fernandes, go about setting up the aLL Primero line, which is in sharp contrast to the vibrant, geometric silhouettes of the AW17 Cubist Rose runway collection?
Primero was conceived entirely by Schulen. She has imbibed my method of working without a mood board as I find them restrictive and they “lift” old concepts and one tends to copy past eras, fabric treatments and colour combinations. I prefer keeping a clear mind.
What is the essence of you that Fernandes has brought into the aLL collection?
Schulen has my DNA very firmly in our collections. It is for this reason that I appointed her my successor. When the media and public look at the new collections, they can’t tell that there is a new person spearheading the collection. It looks like Wendell Rodricks all the way from colour to concept, styling and silhouette.
How does designing for plus sizes vary from a runway collection for slim and lithe bodies?
It’s easier to make runway clothes for regular models as they’re almost factory produced at 34-25-36. With Plus sizes, I love the challenge. People imagine that curvy is all there to Plus sizes, but that’s not true at all as there are hour-glass, apple, pear, carrot and rectangular shapes too. For the aLL show, we chose models that fit every one of these shapes so that voluptuous people can find clothes that suit their shape.
The Cubist Rose collection was loved instantaneously. Do you think Primero will hit a fashion frontier for plus-sized fashion forwards?
I’m certain she will score a hat trick with Primero. She did so with Trapezoid and Cubist Rose. Now it is time for the aLL Primero collection to shine and send out a vibrant, fashion statement. I’ve chosen the music, and the backdrop and I think curvy will be the next trend from LFW. This collection has a happy vibe, quite like the happy people that will wear them.
Will this collection break runway stereotypes in India and encourage more designers to design plus- sized fashion?
There are many myths that we will shatter with the aLL Primero collection. Whites, bright colours, colour blocking, neutrals… most people feel that Plus sizes should stay away from all this. Not at all! We made it a point not to include black in the collection. Black is boring and safe. When I first said ‘white’ for Plus sizes, people gagged. After the show they won’t be gagging, but applauding.
It sounds like you’re bringing voluptuous to the fashion fore with Primero, where skinny takes to the shadows…
Whoever said dogs like bones and men like flesh knew what they were talking about, and 60% of the world’s population of Plus size women will agree. This is a real show for real people and therein lies the strength of the collection. This is real, not virtual fashion fluff.
Who selected the models for the aLL Primero show and was there any training involved for their “runway strut”?
aLL and IMG Reliance had an audition where we chose 21 models from almost 300 entries. We chose them based on their confidence with their own bodies. They are a happy, excited lot. I loved them at first sight. Our choreographer Anu Ahuja, doesn’t want them to do a runway strut. At the fittings she told them, “At the end of it all, comfortable models are happy models”. I second that.
Have you ever had a muse?
Malaika Arora was my first and only muse, till I made all women a collective muse. I have a job to do and I’m obliged to please the public muse. My job is to make them look slimmer, taller and feel more beautiful – that’s all women want.
You have the Moda Goa museum opening end 2018, you’re an impassioned traveler, author, you’re designing silverware, gourmet coffees and the Goa Police Band costume and you love food. How do you maintain your fit persona and sense of self with your diverse creative pursuits?
I am a creative spirit. I guess some people are just made this way. People ask me how I do so much all the time. It really is no effort. I am a Gemini and an expert at multi-tasking. But I am also extremely disciplined. After IHM, a career in hotel management in Mumbai and my sweat and blood years working with the Royal Oman Police, handling Sultans, Sheikhs, Presidents, Prime Ministers et al, I realized one can take on the world in a disciplined, restrained and orderly manner. I learnt discipline from a young age. Give me a 24-hour challenge and I will strive to deliver it in 12 hours. As for loving food, I am an epicurean for sure. Since I lived in Paris, I learnt to ‘indulge in limitation’. Do not believe that I eat everything I post on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. I taste, but don’t gorge, except for dark chocolate.
What achievements in your life are you most proud of and what do you love the most?
I don’t think about myself or my past glories at all. For that, there is google and my website, wendellrodricks.com to refresh my memory. There is much to do without thinking of one’s self and developing an unnecessary ego. I would like to learn Sanskrit and Latin. After aLL Primero, I will be focussing on Moda Goa Museum. I live in a real world in a small village in Goa. Life in an ivory tower is just so not my vibe. Apart from my partner and my dogs, I love this journey called life. I am on a constant high with life and this big, beautiful world.
This feature first appeared in Gulf News on 17 August, 2017