A personal quest for the Pano Bhaju, a traditional goan costume worn for dances and community celebrations, led designer Wendell Rodricks onto a path of unravelling goa’s vibrant fashion heritage.
He’s one of the world’s most admired names in fashion design. He’s also a prominent social activist, an active eco warrior, and one of the most genuine gay rights advocates around. He also has a Padma Shri to go with the uncountable design and leadership awards on his mantlepiece. But to most people who know him, especially in and around his hometown of Goa, Wendell Rodricks is possibly just the nicest, sweetest and most kind-hearted soul they’ve ever known.
The celebrity designer and social figure is now set to make the next giant leap in personal terms — as he’s now set to literally write his name into the giant, crinkly paged annals that will eventually be defined as the history books of tomorrow. If you might sense a hint of irreverence, or some misplaced hyperbole — fret not, as Wendell is interested purely in preserving the spirit of Goan culture. And the wanton, free-spirited Goan nature of things is only par for the course.
What makes things truly enriching is that this next big chapter in Wendell’s life runs deep into his own personal history. This summer, after many years of research, painstaking renovation and curatorial work, Wendell is set to open up his fully restored 450-year-old ancestral home, named Casa Dona Maria in the village of Colvale, as the new Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre — a museum dedicated to Goan costumes; the first of its kind in the country, and possibly the only one in the world.
For a bit more of background context, Wendell also happens to be a published author, having released books such as The Green Room (2012) on Indian fashion, and Poskem (2017), a fictional look at a grim Goan tradition. His earlier book, Moda Goa: History and Style (2012), reportedly took him over ten years of research, before going to print. Wendell’s new museum, in turn, is essentially a curation of his personal collection of curios, artefacts and bric-a-brac over the years — primarily focused on unearthing slices of Goan heritage. You could think of Moda Goa as Wendell’s own museum of innocence, for all things to do with Goan costumes, design and lifestyle through the generations.
With this, Wendell will – in unofficial terms – also begin to be described as not just the patron of a museum, but a benevolent benefactor of the arts, and a saint for preserving indigenous cultural heritage. But before we amplify the accolades any further, we realise just how humble Wendell can be as a human being — to extend his personal time, energy and belongings for the greater cause of building a thoroughly Goan sense of cultural identity.
We got to interact with Wendell on the sidelines of one of his many recent presentations on the museum, to talk about the project, and its research implications. He began by telling us how all of it actually started with a suggestion by the late great cartoonist from Goa, Mario Miranda — to look up a certain garment called the Pano Bhaju, a traditional Goan wraparound garment, somewhat like a sarong, and worn under a blouse, ostensibly for events that involve dancing and community celebration.
Wendell’s personal quest to unravel the history of the Pano Bhaju, in essence, defines the Moda Goa Museum experience. Excerpts from an interview:
By Jaideep Sen
From The New Indian Express, 15 March 2019