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May 10, 2013

Abode Of Happiness

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographs by Tina Dehal.

Walls dotted with nutcrackers and hats…an intriguing interplay of light and colour…artistic workspaces. Wendell Rodricks’ home in Goa – Casa Dona Maria – is imbued with a feel of the Bohemian state and the flavour of his personality. The iconic fashion designer interacts with Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena about living in ‘paradise’

Goa is a veritable cultural melting pot where creative minds from different fields have found a home. And, amongst this intriguing mix is Wendell Rodricks, one of Goa’s most famous residents who chose to shift to the idyllic state two decades ago. The iconic fashion designer returned to his hometown, Colvale, and continues to live in his ‘castle’ – a heritage home that is nestled amongst the trees and gives little clue about the fame of its occupant. On a sunny morning a few weeks ago, Rodricks played host to the Verve team in his abode – a place where he unwinds far away from the excitement and applause of the catwalks, the limelight and the highs of the fashion world.

The home is coloured with the feel and flavour of the Bohemian state of Goa. It is also naturally endowed with the personality of its dweller. One wall proudly displays a collection of hats; a second has a variety of nutcrackers while a third is almost a wall of fame with a series of portraits. Pictures and paintings abound in this space (Theodore Mesquita and Payal Khandwala are his favourites) – and it is amply evident that Rodricks has lovingly nurtured his home ever since he settled here.

Speaking about his symbiotic relationship with the region and his decision to move there two decades ago, the fashion designer says, “Goa to me is not just home. It is a precious jewel entrusted to us to protect for future generations of Goans, Indians and for the world to appreciate. It is a land blessed by God in many ways and I feel it my duty to protect this Mother Goddess. Above all, Goa is a state of mind. Frankly, I knew the minute I was famous and it did not matter where the clothes were made, that l would move to Goa. I am glad I did. It was one of those great life altering transitions.”

He dismisses any reference to the fact that he is one of the most iconic residents of Goa. He emphasises, “When I arrived in Goa to live, I had so many icons to look up to – Mario Miranda, Remo, Charles Correa and Lambert Mascarenhas. Frank Simoes came from my village as did the world’s father of hypnotism, Abbe Faria. And there are several Goans who do not physically live here but are present in spirit – Sylvester and Gerson DaCunha, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle…the list is almost endless. And not many know that people like Shobhaa De and Vijay Mallya have their ancestral temples in Goa.”

His home is called Casa Dona Maria – the name is proudly emblazoned outside. Interestingly Rodricks says, “Casa Dona Maria came to me in a dream. You can read about it in my memoir, The Green Room. How often does anyone dream of a house and then in a few years discovers it becomes yours against so many odds? For me this is not a house. It is an abode of happiness! This home came to me from the Braganza family who now live in Canada and Montreal. I respect the hands that made the house. We added a few verandahs, a pool and modern amenities. But the core and soul is still Dona Maria’s. We offer her portrait flowers every day.”

Over the years, Rodricks has given its interiors his individual touches, additions and artifacts that speak eloquently of his taste and personality. As he says, “I made this home mine in every way and put my stamp on it. I secretly loathed the fact that a grand Goan home should have rosewood furniture and ancestors looking down morbidly from sepia-tinted photographs. So I infused modernity, youthfulness and freshness. Contemporary painters, assorted collections, a fabulous 300-year-old altar from Mandrem in the dining room, fashion photos by my favourite photographer friends of our favourite models and now actors and antiquities that I have amassed. But above all, this is a home. I live in it and cherish the various nooks and corners that please me. The garden is one of the delights. I work at it religiously every Sunday.”

Inside his home, what catches one’s eye instantly are the nutcrackers and hats that adorn two walls. Rodricks states, “We collect hats. I love them. They are from another time…a more romantic and innocent one. Each time I wear a hat I feel I am stepping into Clark Gable’s or (Ernest) Hemingway’s shoes.”

For a designer’s home, this is surprisingly devoid of all things obviously fashionable. Rodricks points out, “I keep fashion far away from my home. I do not want it to remind me of work. There are some fashion photos. But a home should be a home. Not a visiting card or an advertising billboard. And if you think about it apart from two family group photos, there are no photos of us anywhere. When I was doing up the rooms, I kept the Goan culture in mind.We paint our houses with the sun (yellow), sea/sky (blue) or earth (laterite red). I indulged in the salon by painting one altar wall a gold patina.” A fascinating interplay of colours and light (both natural and artificial) give the inner spaces their finishing touches. He states, “I feel for colours. They find me rather than the other way around.”

Even though he has consciously kept ‘fashion’ out of his home, Casa Dona Maria is the place where he not only lives but also works. And as you look around you realise there are spots that could be called his den. Rodricks agrees: “My favourite place is my garden. Between the dozen mango and coconut trees, the flowering plants and the herb patches, I am in paradise. I have three tables in the house that I work at – one is in my Opium Den and another is on the pathway to the house that overlooks the garden. The third is by the pool. All three are full of birdsong, tranquility and the calm of Goa.”

His home reflects the influence of many cultures and religions. It proudly hosts both, a statuette of Jesus and an idol of Ganesha. Religion does play a large role in his life as is evidenced in his home. He states, “I am a Goan and an Indian to the core. I go for mass every day. I worship at every Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain temple in India. My ancestors got converted to Christianity 400 or more years ago. Before that they may have been Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Jain. For me religion is all embracing. I respect all gods. As a Goan who wrote a book Moda Goa: History and Style, on the costume tradition of my state, I travelled the length and breadth of our land. In the process I embraced all that is Goan and Indian.”

Apart from the distinctly Goan ethos that permeates his home, it is dotted with a variety of acquisitions from across the globe. He confesses that he is guilty of picking up stuff everywhere, saying, “I am a big collector – to the extreme. I wish that one day I will say to myself ‘I like that but I am not going to acquire it.’ There is an astrolabe from Arabia, Russian icons, Polynesian and French painters, bells, and, of course, the hats and nutcrackers from all parts of the world. And yet I am most proud of my Goan art collection. I support Goan artists as they deserve a wider audience!”

His home is a work in progress. He says, “Nothing was planned but it evolved. Till a year ago, we did not have an Opium bedroom. But when my partner gifted me one, we built around it. A house is a work in transition.”

Although Rodricks says that he can get inspired anywhere, “Living in Goa is to live with nature. Most people see a mango and take it for granted. I smell the perfumes of the blooms in December and when it gets chilly, I warm the blooms with mini bonfires in February so they do not die with the chill. That is what being close to nature is about. You learn to respect nature unconditionally when you live with it.”

On being asked how his home has derived from his personality, Rodricks has the last word. For he underlines, “It’s the other way around. The home houses me. It directs and channels my personality!”

“I’m a Goan, first and last”
From a small village, Colvale, in susegad Goa, Wendell Rodricks has managed to produce and market across continents some of the world’s best couture. He speaks about his journey in the fashion industry and more….

ON HIS ROOTS
I have travelled literally to the corners of the world…to the Americas, Europe, the countries of the East, lived in the world’s most luxurious hotels and cruise-ships, dined with legends, but my favourite place is home. I’m a Colvalkar, a Goan first and last!

ON THE KUNBI COLLECTION
It’s the most important collection of my career. I use natural hues; the vibrancy comes through the weave itself. When we began weaving scarves with natural dyes, I became obsessed with the idea of weaving a sari in Goa. The only ‘local’ sari belonged to the Kunbi tribe, a red and white checked one. My team worked with weavers for a year. I was possessed by the weave. I wanted to do this for Goa so badly – to leave a cultural legacy of fabric for my state. Like mad scientists, we cut in frenzy and sewed with passion. Sheila Dixit, Sonia Gandhi and Pratibha Patil wear those saris with pride.

ON HIS FAVOURITE DESIGNERS
I appreciate all designers in India. Anyone who invests in fabric and artisans for six months pre and post a collection deserves respect. Most would be happier playing the stock market. More than designers I admire people like Rajiv Sethi, Jaya Jaitley and many others who promote Indian artisans. Their work is what takes our artisans’ hands forward in a modern, meaningful manner.

ON HIS SIXTH SENSE
I don’t know how it works, but it does. In The Green Room, I’ve mentioned three episodes when I ‘felt’ that someone close to me was going to die. On the positive side, the house that I live in: you’ve got to read that story to believe it. I saw it in my dreams. Every detail of it. I can’t explain so many things that have gone right for me and I’ve always ‘known’ they would. When I did Visionnaire: Braille in Fashion, it took me many months of trying out colours and cuts. But it was a sudden revelation that brought the braille to the buttons, cuffs, collars, pockets, seams. That intuition to do the correct thing, when the thought comes to mind unexpectedly and without logic, is something I’m blessed with.

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