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BOOK REVIEW: THE GREEN ROOM BY WENDELL RODRICKS

Sathya Saran  (click here to know more about this blogger)

Autobiographies by those not skilled in the art of writing, or who have not let themselves be shaped by the practice of it, run the danger of becoming self indulgent. Viewing one's life, looking back at the ups and downs in the road that has finally led to a high point, can cause a state of mind where the ego blots reason, highlighting triumphs and deleting weaknesses. All this is especially true when someone embarks on the task of chronicling his life from the comfortable perch of achieved success.

Wendell Rodricks, designer first, and writer second, started writing The Green Room as part of a group exercise in which friends got together and decided to write the stories of their lives individually. It is a statement of his professional approach to everything he does, that of the group, Wendell alone completed the project and created a work worthy of print. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Wendell stays out of the party scene. His sightings are rare and far between, centering around shows or launches. Goa, his preferred location, is also where he has his flagship store and when he does venture out it is more often than not to embark on a cruise or a journey that combines study or work with sightseeing. Which makes him quite an enigma, at least for the voyeurs who enjoy celebrity watching.
 
Luckily for those who wish to view the details of Wendell's life through The Green Room, the designer has not given in to the temptation of self indulgence. Written with the same combination of matter of fact professionalism and love of detail that he gives to his designing work, the book is a delightful read. Wendell spends a lot of time writing about his family: mother, father, beloved cousin, brother, adored aunt... all come alive and throng around him through his growing up years. Scenes of his life in a chawl in the then Bombay, of his life working at the Royal Oman Police Officers' Club in Muscat and his homes in Goa are drawn with the same visual power he draws his design sketches with: touches of humor or emotional tinges color the swift easy lines of his verbal portraiture.
 
As relevant as the people he writes about are the incidents he narrates, that shaped his interest in design, clothes and his ultimate growth as a designer with a signature style all his own. Like the description of a trek during a vacation as a boy, in Khandala, where he attended a family camp run by a guitar-playing priest from Bandra, Fr Robin. "One night we trekked to a vantage point on a hill." Wendell writes. " ' Do not open your eyes till you reach the edge,' Fr Robin instructed us. When we opened our eyes, the sight we saw was one of sheer brilliance. Stars hung within grabbing distance in a  dark, velvet sky. Far below, the city of Khapoli was a carpet of twinkling lights. The magical vista stays fresh in my mind even today. I stored away all these visual memories hungrily and used them later to create sets and light effects for my show."
 
In another chapter, when he talks about his education in fashion in America, he explains how  his pattern making teacher , Mr. Wilkens, who did Marilyn Monroe's clothes in the 1960s, taught him not just how to take exact measurements and make patterns by exactly draping muslin on a dummy, but also taught him to read women. "At first, I found it difficult to gauge a woman's measurements at a glance. Gradually, I learnt it was possible. One day, at the end of term, we walked down Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills near Richaurd's house. I correctly read every single woman on the street." .......
....."Even today, I can read a woman without taking a measuring tape to her body."
 
Such signposts in his development as a designer, stylist and artist are invaluable to students of fashion. And for the lay reader, they explain just how layered the learning needs to be to enable a designer to find his signature style. Also of importance for the student are the many descriptions of his many fashion shows, shoots and styling, their conceptualization, execution and details of the work that each of them entailed. Also part of the book is his enduring and close relationship with his life partner and soul mate, Jerome Marrel, who has in many subtle ways shaped Wendell's life. The section that describes the reactions of family and friends to their formalizing their relationship is written with irony tinged with disappointment. Other friends, players, teachers and colleagues also have walk-in parts through the book, and where they have contributed to his growth in any way, Wendell is free and generous in giving them their due. That is perhaps what stands out most in this book. The human emotions, the frank delineations of joys and sorrows, written with an unabashed faithfulness to truth.
 
All said, a book worth reading, one of the first autobiographies of a period in India's history as a nation coming to terms with fashion. As a chronicle of a designer's journey in this still nascent industry, quite invaluable.
 
The Green Room by Wendell Rodricks
 
19-AUGUST-2012
 
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19 Comments
 
27-AUGUST-2012 Viresh Verma
Good work Jas, I'm happy for u to see the portal really shaping up like u had visioned. I'm still reading my copy of "The Green Room" and just loving it as I'm flipping through. Sathya is one of the best fashion historians the country has. I have always admired her columns and her opinion on the industry and its torch bearers. And, am not saying this because she's a friend, but because I sincerly believe in her. It's an excellent review, I must say. Wendell, you are a genious; known you for years now and have followed your work. I can read through the honesty in the book as all of us fashion journalists have been witness to many incidents you have mentioned in the book. After chronicling Goa's fashion legacy in Moda Goa, 'The Green Room' is a brilliant take on the fashion industry... more power to u!!!
 
 
22-AUGUST-2012 Veronique Poles
DEAR SATHYA, congrats for the review...
 
 
21-AUGUST-2012 Anjana Sharma
If ever I feel the need to just give up and run away it's people like Wendell and Sathya who remind me that there are good people in the fashion business.
 
 
21-AUGUST-2012 Piyush Nagpal
i've been following your columns in most publications Sathya. I love the way you write. To the point.
 
 
21-AUGUST-2012 Ram Thukral
lovely intelligent piece.. and a fabulous book. I enjoyed my weekend over it.
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 Anil Prabhakar
Wendell and Sathya, point well taken. I personally learnt a lot from the book. Wendell is India's first designer to write his memoirs and I wish others emulate him. I have worked in the watch and jewellery sector for more than a decade. Rado is one of the brands I was associated with for five years. I incidentally have worked with the LFW team especially Vikram Raizada closely. I therefore know the identities of the persons mentioned by Wendell.
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 Aditya
Salut, Wendell
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 Wendell Rodricks
Firstly Sathya... thank you. Just two words but with a sincere emotion. Referring to not taking " bulging eyes" name is because I want to enjoy Goa and not be dragged to court over a person who loves taking people to court ;) Also, when I wrote 'The Green Room', I was very conscious that I did not want to destroy anyone's lives, marriage or relationship. I could have written a tell all... but it is not my style. I wrote of those who touched my life... in ways positive and to learn from the negative with as much grace as possible. After the bulging yes incident I stopped travelling for shows alone and took my partner and two assistants.
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 Sathya Saran
Anyone who knows fashion and has attended fashion weeks knows exactly who the bulging eyes belong to. But nice of Wendell only to name people he praises or acknowledges, not someone who did him wrong!
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 mahesh dattani
Anil: It is sensible on Wendell's part not to mention names and identities for the sake of gossip! Love your critique Sathya.
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 mandeep singh
I agree with Piyush. Baring someone's personal weaknesses to sell copies is a bad move. Was it necessary to strip Raakesh Agarval????
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 piyush nagpal
Anil Prabhakar: sometimes concealing identities saves people from embarassment unlike what Shefalee Vasudev did in 'The Powder Room' for sensationalism and mass appeal. Purely my perspective.
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 Geeta Castelino
Excellent review, Sathya... very aptly observed :)
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 Anil Prabhakar
Wendel is one person who has lived life on his own terms. He is a brave man to legitimise his relationship with Jerome. However, he should have revealed the identities of some persons mentioned in the book such as the person with bulging eyes.
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 Madhoo
I always thought a book by a designer would be self promotion but 'The Green Room' has really made me respect Wendell Rodricks. On this note I would also like to comment that I felt bad for the intensely personal lives of designers published in 'The Powder Room'. Why does the general public need to know a designer's sexual orientation and drug rehab? What is your perception?
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 Pinky Reddy
Nice insightful account
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 Harsh Mehra
I bought the book on it's launch at Lakme Fashion Week. Lovely read!
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 Kanika Mahajan
An honest personal experience is always an interesting read. Thanks for the review. I'll place an order for the book online!
 
 
20-AUGUST-2012 Malini Sengupta
Lovely review! I agree with your opening line. Most autobiographies are self-indulgent. What do you think of The Powder Room?
 
 
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