Anyone who knows the word ‘fashion’ knows Goa-based fashion designer Wendell Rodricks. A man who took cues from his cultural legacy to create a contemporary idiom for fashion that has found countless takers.

His book Moda Goa is the first document on the history of Goan costume and fashion, a style that borrows from several cultures, people and religions. Sitting on the crossroads of trade between the East and the West, Goa was a cultural cauldron. Different faiths, tribes and foreign cultures influenced the Goan clothing heritage that evolved with changing historical perspectives. With the arrival of Portuguese, the first ever Indo-Western garments were born in Goa.

Now, Rodricks is turning his 450-year-old home in Colvale (Goa) into a museum of Goan sartorial heritage. Scheduled to open in end-2018, the museum will trace the history of Goan fashion with clothes, jewellery and accessories.

There is no such thing as Goan fashion. But there is Goan style as there is Indian style. Every state in India has a costume history and Goa has its fair share. In fact, Goa has a larger chunk than most as it was always a trading port with local and international people. It was also desired as a port of conquest by Indian kingdoms and by the Portuguese. Every invader left a mark on the evolving Goan style. What are the main elements/influences?

Being near the sea, we can say that the sea and the hills dictated the Goan style. On one level were fisherfolk who needed clothes in which they could easily step in and out of boats and on the other end, people who worked knee-deep in paddy fields, climbed coconut and mango trees, and worked at various jobs from masonry, carpentry and blacksmith. All these influenced the costume of the state.

I took 10 years to research Moda Goa, and a year to write the book. During this time, I began collecting objects. I knew that these objects would become museum-worthy. Hence, the next natural progression was to have a museum.

Like in the book, we will start from prehistoric times till the present. Everyone seems to think that the history of Goa begins and ends with the Portuguese. Nothing is further from the truth. There were tribes, the Greeks and the Romans visiting Goa, Persians and Arabs trading, the arrival of the Buddhists and Jains, Hinduism in various avatars, the Deccani Muslims who predate the Portuguese.

Before the arrival of the Portuguese, we were all Goans, or rather Konkani people. The differences came later. What I would like to dwell on, however, is the commonalities between all faiths in Goa.We are similar in more ways than different in many ways. Even today, one can meet a Goan and can’t tell if they are Hindu, Muslim, or Catholic. There is a common DNA among the Goans.

Not just designers, but models, make-up and hair artistes, photographers. The list is extensive.

The arrival of the Portuguese gave rise to the world’s first Indo-Western garment. We use the term fusion and Indo-Western rather liberally today.
But, one has to remember that with the Portuguese as the first colonisers in 1510, the first Indo-Western garments were born in Goa.

The Inquisition in 1560 was a blow to Goan dress for both women and men. Many edicts later curbed the wearing of Indian or Goan clothes. The Portuguese wanted to create a hybrid society and to a large extent they succeeded.

Do you know that Goan goldsmiths were Daivajna Brahmins? Their skill was so admired that they became the first Indians to cross the seas to the West to make jewellery for the courts of Lisbon, Paris and parts of Spain and Italy. Gold is one of the most ancient of arts in Goa that is still cherished today.

Nothing great about hats and scarves. They were accessories imported from the West after the conversions. More importantly, we had our own turban drapes, shoes and accessories much before the arrival of the Portuguese.

The response has been generous, and we  are looking for more pieces of heritage value.

I have no physical attachment to anything. Everyone seems surprised by the move, but I am happy this home goes to a worthy cause.

By Preeti Verma Lal
From Deccan Herald, 11 September 2016