A fashionably simple story

Updated: Oct 1 2012, 02:14am hrs
Wendell Rodricks memoir chronicles his first tentative foray into design and other passions

Chandralekha Roy

If 18th century novelist Samuel Richardson was correct that singularity in dress shows something wrong in the mind, the incredible variety of todays fashion is more wonderfully insane than ever. Fashion at the moment is polarised as almost never before. One the one hand, theres the extravagant and theatrical school of design by the unabashed badshahs of opulence, on the other hand the simple and unadorned school of Wendell Rodricks. The result, oddly enough, isnt so much chaos as amazing diversity of clothes that are perfectly in fashion.

It isnt surprising that everyone in fashion these days has a story to tell, but writing a memoir and making those stories interesting and readable is much, much harder than it looks. So it was with great trepidation that I approached Rodricks autobiography The Green Room. His easy charm draws you in, not cramming every memory onto the page, focusing instead on relating a story to broader themes. Childhood, youth, family, Mumbai and its compelling environment, being gay, tentative first forays into design and the super track thereafter. Yet there is no arguing that a lot of it wouldnt appeal unless you are a fashion victim or a Wendell Rodricks fan. And at over 350 pages, attention is piqued and peaked!

It is funny and endearing in parts, almost like in a fairy tale, he wants to invest his story, much like his clothes, with something intangible before they go off to a buyer. If there is one thing that can be said about Wendell Rodricks, is that he has a mind of his own. Never one to hop on the latest bandwagon, always seemingly bucking conventional wisdom, and sometimes doing just the opposite of what retailers expect will work in a tough sales climate. Instead of garnishing clothes with everything right down to the kitchen sink, Rodricks has honed what can be called a real Wendell Rodricks signature story: simple, linear and easy to deal with.

In any decent game of chance, you must be present to win. Thats also true with writing what you know, where paying attention is the skill you need to succeed. What you pay attention to is detail, and that skill is like sorting jewellery: Get a good loupe, learn to focus it, and then scramble amid your dazzling, jagged facets for only those few pieces that need apply. In the unfolding of Rodricks life you see the playout of Indias burgeoning fashion scene from the first mavericks to media to retail. All the while, personal moments play their part. There is a moving segment with his Muslim tailor post the Babri riots and the destined move to Goa when a property unexpectedly lands at his doorstep. It is an India in churn, and Rodricks seemingly simple life story reflects that.

His voice, however, is the strongest when it interprets the biggest change of all. The emergence of a celebrity culture, where all distinctions are blurredadvertising, and editorial, model and actress. For designers they become friends of the house, counted on to fly to shows, sit in the front rows, appear at premieres and award shows, sometimes for a lark, and sometimes for a hefty price. Around this a whole industry has matured, a kind of feeding tube between star and designer, PR agents and stylists and star co-ordinators and image consultants and agencies and magazines, each with its in-house celebrity stroker. Each designer has its person. This is celebrity culture, its low and high ends feeding the hunger for vicarious participation. They poach the same faces and sound bites and photo-ops and events, hunting for fallen crumbs from the table of fame. As Rodricks points out, the emotions of the fame culture are envy and schadenfreude. Laziness prevails; it is easier to grasp an image than an essence.

The writer is a freelance journalist