I volunteered to review Wendell Rodricks’ The Green Room. I had heard only briefly heard of Wendell (courtesy one of his controversial shoots), I only knew he is a fashion designer. Since I did not know a thing about fashion, I thought it would be new knowledge. But when I saw the hard bound 355-page thick book, my spirits plummeted. I thought who wants to read soliloquies of a designer who is obviously too self-obsessed to write such a thick autobiography/memoir.
Half-hearted I dug into book, to my surprise the writing was good, it was in simple storytelling voice. I easily dug in the story. And story began right where he, a Goan guy, was born in a Bombay chawl and his journey to become the man he is today. In between, there are interesting vignettes such as about 1965 war, tales from Marinagar, and his Grandma Rita’s mystifying Konkan ritual to get rid of ‘disht’, an evil eye. And I thought, why did I never ask my parents how was it for them during the war, how, they were affected by several historical on goings. That is the stuff history is made of, that is how books like Art Spiegalman’s Maus come along and take their place in recording history.
But I digress, Wendell’s book though enshrines the ongoing historic pieces, it is in face a memoir of his personal journey. It is story of a Goan boy from middle-class Bombay chawl who goes on to make his name in International fashion. It is achieved through variety of experiences starting from Oman where he worked in a hotel and then his dream to save and go to US to study fashion. Passing out with summa cum laude, he returns India to teach in SNDT college in Juhu and he finds he loves teaching. This is my favourite part too, to know few of India’s talented fashion designers such as Hemant Trivedi and Wendell love to teach. Wendell, eager to learn more, goes to Paris to study again – something that would stay with him all his life. He would years later go again for an internship in a Portuguese museum to learn about costume etc.
Wendell’s book is full of who’s who, he steers clear of controversial stuff in fashion. Couple of times if he mentions an incident he doesn’t name the person. Though I could make out one referred to Shobha De as a model who was slapped because she was busy kissing a male hunk before the show. But even if he had any bad blood with people, he didn’t name them, and kept away from bitching. Though he seems very fond of Malaika Arora, who has been his favourite model for several of his shoot and it is Malaika who adorns the cover of his book. He also reveals a caring attitude for exceptionally beautiful and exceedingly untalented actress Aishwarya Rai. He discloses a green room story where Ash was being treated badly by all models and she broke down. Other than such tid bits, the book expectedly is all about Wendell’s life.
Once cannot close a review on Wendell’s book without mentioning his long time French partner Jerome with who he had relationship over two decades, their love for travel around the world in 269 countries and 965 cities (as Wendell himself claims in the book). He never mentioned an angst about being gay in this country, it seemed his family was accepting until Shobha De printed about his singing PACS (Pacte Civil de Solidarite) with Jerome. That was only time it seemed hell broke loose and Wendell was estranged with him family for sometime .
I did not learn much about fashion from Wendell’s book, only that money in fashion mostly comes from retail, designers also have silly Delhi vs Mumbai quarrel, of new and old fashion weeks, of importance of being written about in magazines and contacts with reporters. But I learnt, Wendell loves Goa and he in always involved in all sorts of projects for Goa and encourages new Goan talent. He not only likes to reach, he sometimes writes. And reading this book, I can vouch that he writes simply and writes well.