Always in Fashion – Wendell Rodricks’s museum

The late iconic fashion designer Wendell Rodricks had a dream – to build India’s first museum tracing the history of Goa and the Konkan region through its costumes. Cocooned in an old house in Colvale, the Moda Goa Museum & Research Centre is a dream about to come true very soon.

Text: Samira Sheth

Down the bylanes of Colvale, in the home where Wendell and Jerome lived for 24 years, something significant is happening.  A world class museum is coming into shape – the Moda Goa Museum & Research Centre.

Wendell Rodricks left behind a huge legacy – as a world renowned fashion designer, an author, Padma Shri recipient, curator, historian and an environmentalist. With this museum, a long held dream of his, he has made an indelible contribution to Goa. Since he passed away suddenly in February 2020, Wendell’s partner, Jerome Marrell, has done his utmost to bring the late designer’s dream to fruition.

The labour of love is being brought to life in a sprawling old house. Casa Dona Maria, as the house was named, is an unregistered heritage house with the ground floor dating to the late 1500’s and the rest of the structure to the mid 1750’s to 1850’s. After acquisition by the Founding Trustee, Wendell, in 1993 various additions were made keeping in mind the design and construction techniques of the past.

The restoration being carried out at present is in line with the requirements of the best heritage conservation standards.

Architect’s sketch

With a collection of over 800 objects including statues, objects, furniture, photographs and of course clothing, jewellery and accessories, spanning across the seventh century to the present, the world class Moda Goa Museum & Research Centre showcases the many histories of Goa and the Konkan region through its costume. It will be India’s first costume museum.  18 galleries will be accommodated in the restored heritage building on a floor area of 750 sqm set on two levels, both of which are wheelchair access enabled.

 Dowry Box painted on wood

Galleries abut one another, leading one through the many interconnected histories that make Goa what it is today. The Old Gods of Goa reside in one room, the residuary of the many cultures that influenced Goa – Omani, Arab, Greek, Roman and more in another; the arrival of the Portuguese, a period which was to last over 450 years is showcased in another while other rooms display objects that speak of the multicultural history of the region through Inquisition and Liberation.

A huge repository of Christian art has been donated to the museum and is lovingly displayed. There is one room dedicated to the sarees of India, to give national perspectives on the enduring costumes of India and its textile history. There are tributes to famous Goans in a gallery, sparking a conversation about how Goans have carried their specific design aesthetic with them. An entire gallery is devoted to the memory of Prateek, a young boy who suffered from cancer. His noteworthy drawings are displayed on the walls. One gallery is entirely converted into a vault and showcases gold and other jewellery of historical significance. The significance of costume to Goan culture and the coast – how it changed, what influenced it, what is the significance of costume as a marker of social identity, class, economics, culture and more are the main thrust of this remarkable museum space.

 A roster of changing shows will take place in the courtyard or one of the galleries sponsored by the FDCI, rooted in the special relationship Wendell had with them. Many others have contributed their time, expertise and services generously without any fee including architects Arvind and Nita D’Souza, designer Satyajit Vetoskar, The One School Goa for photography and Sancoale Technologies for website support.

An eminent the Board of Trustees includes Goan entrepreneur, educationist and philanthropist Pallavi Dempo, historian and heritage activist Prajal Sakhardande and renowned apparel and jewellery designer Shreedevi Deshpande Puri, also the Managing Trustee of the Museum.

An exhaustive library housing possibly the most expansive collection of books on fashion from Wendell’s personal collection provides a research space for scholars and students.

Fully in keeping with Wendell’s vision for the museum, Jerome explains, “In phase 2 we will build, in traditional Goan style, an area of 240 sqm to house storage, conservation, a scholar residence and an administration zone.”

The emphasis is on keeping the Goan character of the old home, as Wendell wanted. The beauty of the facade has not been altered at all. The changes have only been made inside and the building is fully air-conditioned with a state of the art lighting system and sealed vitrines to display historical objects safely and without any damage from Goa’s humid climate.

So much thought and planning has gone into making this Museum a reality. It was while researching his book Moda Goa over a period of ten years that Wendell began to realise the historical significance of the objects he was collecting. Most of these rare pieces, entirely from his collection find space in this stunning museum. Art, architecture, history, costume all come together to pull us through interesting times.

Each object speaks a story not only of its past but also of its collector – Wendell and his passion for bringing these stories to light.

LETTER FROM THE FOUNDING TRUSTEE

When dear friend and celebrated award winning cartoonist Mario Miranda requested me in the late nineties to write a chapter for a book on Goa to be edited by senior journalist and writer Mario Cabral e Sa, I did not realise that it would lead to The Moda Goa Museum two decades later. The book, featuring the Pano Bhaju Costume worn to dance the Goan Mando as one of the chapters, did not see the light of day. But it did result in a ten year research and two museum internships in New York and Lisbon. A year after the research was completed, the book Moda Goa: History and Style by Harper Collins was published.

It was during the internships at the National Costume Museum in Lisbon and the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York that I realised it was possible to have an international standard costume museum in Goa. At that time, I had no idea about the logistics of making that dream come true because my focus was the Moda Goa: History and Style book at hand.

A dreamer stays a dreamer. And I am one big dreamer who made most of my dreams come true. One dream was to give back to Goa, society, state and country. Through The Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre, with my partner Jerome Marrel, we would like to give back what this wonderful state and incredible country have given us as a legacy. A legacy of great culture, kaleidoscopic diversity and formidable ancient history.

…From the onset I was very clear what the museum should achieve. After visiting many museums the world over I dreamed of creating an international standard museum that was alive, invigorating to the public and scholar alike, to become a museum of learning, interaction and research. This will not be a dark space to read captions near an artifact. The Moda Goa Museum will have only privately guided tours so you can learn from us and vice versa. We want to listen and interact with visitors. There is much to learn from interaction with those that visit any museum. The Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre will not be just about Goan costume but the Konkan coast, as a geographical boundary, that has long since disappeared. Beyond the Konkan, The Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre should also address Goa’s connection with India and the world… Goa is also the birthplace of the Indo- Western garment. Today we use the word Indo-Western liberally without realising that Goa was where Portuguese Europe met Goan India.

After a 450 year isolation from India, Goa and Goans were in a way disconnected from Indian culture and clothing to a large extent. The museum will showcase temporary exhibitions that will introduce the 6000 year clothing legacy of India to Goans and visitors to the state.

…It is my hope and dream that The Moda Goa Museum becomes what Goa has always been. A stop on the international cross roads of humanity.

…Above all, is my dream that everyone who loves Goa and India, costume and clothing in particular, becomes a part of the Moda Goa Museum legacy and in any and every way, contributes to the“raison d’être” of this journey to make the Moda Goa Museum in Colvale Goa, a unique place on the planet.

 Wendell Rodricks

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Author: Planet Goa Team
For us at Planet-Goa, our team is driven by that feeling of exhilaration that one gets when discovering that something ‘unique’ and ‘new’ about Goa for our ever-so-discerning readers.

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