Veteran designer Wendell Rodricks was among 101 illustrious Indians honoured with the Padma Shri on the eve of our 65th Republic Day this past weekend. Both a pioneer and a revivalist,the Goa-based couturier is the only other fashion designer to receive the fourth highest civilian honour in the country after Ritu Kumar.We spoke to him hours after the news broke, while he was on vacation onboard a cruise ship thousands of miles away. Excerpts:
Where were you when you heard that you’d been awarded the Padma Shri?
I was at sea between Tonga and New Zealand, celebrating George Burns Night with some Scottish friends, when my email inbox and Facebook wall started filling up with congratulatory messages. I saw them only the next morning and was overjoyed! I had a vague idea that something was in the works as I was asked to submit a one-page bio data, etc.but I did not dwell on it.I didn’t think anything would come of it!
What was your first reaction?
I broke down and cried!When I switched on my cell phone for the first time since New Year’s, the first SMS was from the Governor of Goa congratulating me.I was in my suite on the cruise liner the Silver Whisper. What was to be a regular day at sea turned out to be one I will never forget. Though it was raining and cold, all I felt was a warm emotion as the entire ship was in celebration mode.
What does an award like this mean to you and for the fashion industry at large?
I have no idea what this means professionally. But thanks to this recognition, I will serve my state and country with greater enthusiasm. As a fashion person, I was so happy when Ritu Kumar got the award the first time, never dreaming that I was next in line. After all,fashion is looked upon as a very frivolous industry, even though we are not. I am sure the fashion industry is happy and I hope this will give more designers the impetus to work for both state and national causes. Goa gave me so much that when I wrote my first book Moda Goa, documenting the history of clothing over 10 long years, the reaction of the public was heartwarming. I hope this award will have a domino effect and many more awards will follow for the Indian fashion fraternity.
What did you do to celebrate?
I was on cloud nine all day, with a lot of champagne flowing at the bar. In the evening, I had a private champagne dinner with my partner Jerome Marrel onboard the cruise liner. I will return to India in mid-February, and I’m told Stylista.com is planning a big celebration in Mumbai. I can’t wait!
2014 has clearly started on a very big note for you. Do tell us a little bit about your plans for the coming year.
Whatever I do will never overshadow this award, but I have started writing two new books – both for students – one on Goa and the other on fashion. I also have plans to open a Goa costume museum and a fashion institute. Those projects will get top priority now.
You’ve been a mentor and teacher to several young designers. Where do you see Indian fashion heading in the new year? And how do you see yourself contributing to its growth and development?
I am very proud to be a part of a very creative, rapidly growing and talented industry. As a member of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), I am genuinely proud of our young talent. Designers work very hard and the fashion industry deserves the recognition it is now getting. I hope this award galvanises the plans I have for the industry. There is much to be done to take Indian fashion to take its rightful place on the world stage.
Get your hands on Padma Shri Wendell Rodricks’ exclusive collection for Stylista right here!