A FIRST LOOK AT WEN­DELL RODRICKS AND JEROME MARREL’S MU­SEUM OF LOVE

NA­TIONAL AWARD-WIN­NING FASH­ION DE­SIGNER WEN­DELL RODRICKS AND HIS PART­NER JEROME MARRELL ARE CON­VERT­ING THEIR OLD GOAN HOME INTO A RE­POS­I­TORY OF HER­ITAGE. HERE’S AN EX­CLU­SIVE FIRST LOOK AT THEIR PLANS…

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - Text by Sathya Saran Photo by Prab­hat Shetty

Ido not know a more ro­man­tic cou­ple than Wen­dell Rodricks and Jerome Marrel. I re­alised this when I vis­ited them a few years ago. It had been an un­usual birth­day gift: an in­vi­ta­tion to stay with them, ac­com­pa­nied by a plane ticket. We landed at al­most the same time, from dif­fer­ent flights, and drove off from the air­port. “A small detour, I hope you don’t mind,” Jerome said, eyes a-twin­kle, as the car turned to­wards the beach. And there, fanned by the soft Oc­to­ber breeze, sand­wiched be­tween the blue of sky and sea, we sat un­der a shady tree to have the most amaz­ing open air lunch I can re­mem­ber. And no, it was not in my hon­our. For Wen­dell and Jerome, de­tours like this are a part of most trips home from the air­port. I found it ter­ri­bly ro­man­tic. Con­trary to pop­u­lar cul­ture that imag­ines ro­mance in ob­vi­ous and pub­lic dis­plays of af­fec­tion, this is a ro­mance that runs like an un­der­cur­rent through their daily lives. It trans­lates into al­ways be­ing there for each other, in help­ing dreams be­come re­al­ity, in de­bat­ing and agree­ing. Be­tween their na­tures, there are enough points of dif­fer­ence to cre­ate po­lar­i­ties. In­stead, their dif­fer­ences com­ple­ment each other. If Wen­dell is the dreamer, Jerome is the pil­lar he can build those dreams on to. If Wen­dell is close to the earth, Jerome flies high.

It keeps the ex­cite­ment of the re­la­tion­ship at full throt­tle, mak­ing ev­ery event a cel­e­bra­tion. So Jerome books tick­ets on the Con­corde to cel­e­brate Wen­dell’s pass­ing with hon­ours from a Los An­ge­les de­sign school, books a cruise to sail them to ex­otic lands, lights up the house with can­dles of ev­ery kind when Wen­dell re­turns from a trip, or qui­etly en­sures the less flam­boy­ant but very im­por­tant task of send­ing out passes for Wen­dell’s shows is taken care of. Wen­dell on his part has welded his life so closely with his part­ner’s that he dreads “to be left alone with­out Jerome in my life.”

HOME IS HOME

It took years af­ter they found each other, for them to set­tle down to­gether. There were years of part­ings and meet­ings as each pur­sued

THE MODA GOA MU­SEUM IS NOT JUST A PROJECT. IT IS THE CUL­MI­NA­TION OF AN EN­DUR­ING PART­NER­SHIP THAT BE­GAN AS A BLIND DATE… AND HAS STOOD THE TEST OF TIME…

his cho­sen line. Some­times Jerome would drop all he was do­ing to move to where Wen­dell was; at other times, Wen­dell made sure he trav­elled to join his part­ner. At one point, de­spair­ing of ways to keep the long dis­tance re­la­tion­ship alive, he threw up his as­sign­ments in Mumbai and shifted to Is­tan­bul where Jerome was sta­tioned.

The house, they wel­comed me to soon af­ter my birth­day that year, is a grand old house with a story of its own. A house that fas­ci­nates all their guests; the re­sult of serendip­ity. The story of how he dreamed, while liv­ing and work­ing in Mus­cat, of the house in vivid de­tail is one Wen­dell loves telling. He had walked past the Casa in his vil­lage of Colvale many times, never ven­tur­ing in, but the dream had him wan­der­ing through the high ceilinged rooms, and up the steep stairs, turn­ing onto the verandah, and back again.

His mother, on hear­ing his dream, took him to the ma­tri­arch who owned the Casa. “We be­came friends,” Wen­dell says, “And one day her daugh­ter called to say her mother wanted to sell the house to me, and no one else.” The price was “what I could af­ford”, so he bor­rowed what he could to add to what he had, and the house changed hands. Adding value to the mea­gre price was the prom­ise that he would never break down or sell the place, be­cause the owner had spent much of her life in it; it was a re­pos­i­tory of her mem­o­ries.

The house en­sured that af­ter their wan­der­ings in many places across the globe, Wen­dell and Jerome at last came home. They would spend 23 years in the house, shar­ing it with dogs and cats, and vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing rel­a­tives and friends as well as the pass­ing cu­ri­ous. A well-lived in, much-loved home that re­flected their tastes and was a state­ment to their hospitality.

Then, early this year, the cou­ple moved out. And that is an­other story that Wen­dell tells best.

“Many things came to­gether to in­flu­ence my de­ci­sion,” he says. “I am on the thresh­old of se­nior cit­i­zen­ship, Jerome is al­ready 62, and we wanted to down­size. To find a home that made fewer de­mands on us and was more com­pact.” News of their in­ten­tion to move trav­elled quickly; soon they were look­ing at “an ob­scene of­fer of a mil­lion dol­lars” for the place.

“I re­alised then that sell­ing was not an op­tion. Any­one spend­ing so much would want to tear down parts, ex­tend and build over or along the orig­i­nal walls. And I had given my word that I wouldn’t let that hap­pen,” Wen­dell says.

At the back of his mind was an­other idea. Ever since he worked on the Moda Goa cof­fee ta­ble book, and re­alised the wealth of Goan his­tory, Wen­dell had planned to cre­ate a mu­seum and started col­lect­ing arte­facts. “I re­alised I did not have to con­tinue look­ing for the ideal mu­seum space; I could con­vert this house into one. It would need a lot of work, but it would do fine.”

Serendip­i­tously, a friend liv­ing abroad hap­pened to visit and men­tion his house ly­ing va­cant. Serendip­i­tously, it was also in Colvale. “We of­fered to rent it,” Jerome says, “But I told them I wanted to make some changes, and build a swim­ming pool, cre­ate a lawn and a gar­den.” The friend agreed. The cou­ple had found their new home.

HOUSE OF STYLE

Three years af­ter my birth­day trip, I am at their home again. The new home, which Jerome has fit­ted with blue win­dows has a lawn that in­vites you to sprawl. The bed­rooms num­ber only two, but I am told there is a bed ready for me, and I can see the gen­tly float­ing mos­quito nets on the four­poster that had been mine in one of the three guest rooms of the ear­lier house.

The ta­ble is set for lunch, and Jerome waits while I re­pair to his part­ner’s stu­dio to take notes and chat about their lives and new de­vel­op­ments.

Wen­dell is com­pletely car­ried away by the dream of the Mu­seum. He plans it not “as a hole in the wall,” but an in­ter­na­tional sta­tus mu­seum of fash­ion, which will also show­case Goan her­itage. To this end, he has an on­go­ing ap­peal for Goa re­lated ex­hibits. “The re­sponse has been amaz­ing,” he says.” I have re­ceived ob­jects so rare and pre­cious, any mu­seum would be proud of them.” Among them, a gold and ivory fruit par­ing knife, a hand-stitched wed­ding dress and silken hand-made shoes gifted by a 99-year-old, along with pho­tos of her­self as a bride and of her hus­band, all proud in a top hat. Jew­ellery, golden ob­jects of wor­ship, al­tar pieces are al­ready in his col­lec­tion, and fur­ni­ture, as well as ar­ti­san tools, sculp­turea, and 400 rosaries in­clud­ing one made of clam shells. He plans to add some of his own trea­sures: an old Louis Vuit­ton let­ter opener, a Cartier chain, a 50-year-old al­tar plus a main al­tar­piece be­queathed by Geeta Si­moes.

Even as he dreams of how the spa­ces will be di­vided, Jerome is get­ting the in­surance and the re­quired per­mis­sions in mo­tion, adding the solid foun­da­tion that ev­ery dreamer re­quires.

Bring­ing to his new project the grav­i­tas and pu­rity his brand has ac­quired over the 30 years of his de­signe jour­ney, Wen­dell is spar­ing no cost or ef­fort in cre­at­ing a world­class space. The good­will the cou­ple has built over the years makes him san­guine that he can re­cruit other de­sign­ers to aid him.

“I can ask Abra­ham and Thakore to recre­ate a slave’s in­digo scarf from a photo, or Ritu Kumar to make a replica of a chris­ten­ing dress now in Lis­bon. Sabyasachi, Anita Don­gre, Muzaf­far Ali...they can add so much,” he says. “Jerome adds so much. We’ve trav­elled through 150 coun­tries and his mem­ory is so sharp, he will say, ‘let’s do this cor­ner in a Pan African way, Iike we saw in the bush,’ or some­thing else that seems per­fectly fit­ting, yet ex­otic.”

I lis­ten to him, and sud­denly the mu­seum idea comes alive, and takes a new mean­ing. The Moda Goa Mu­seum project is not just a project. It is the cul­mi­na­tion of many years of to­geth­er­ness, a mile­stone to mark an en­dur­ing part­ner­ship that be­gan as a blind date in Mus­cat more than three decades ago, evolved into a for­mal le­gal sta­tus that runs par­al­lel to a mar­riage con­tract, and has stood the test of time to re­main fresh and in­volved. This is the cou­ple’s big­gest to­gether-project, what they will cre­ate for pos­ter­ity. A liv­ing, grow­ing sym­bol of a re­la­tion­ship that has never faded.

Feel­ing at home (Above) Casa Bonne Aubaine, Colvale, Goa, is the new home where Wen­dell and Jerome (fac­ing page) have moved to make way for the Moda Goa Mu­seum

serene spa­ces (From left) Casa Dona Maria in Colvale, which will be­come the Moda Goa Mu­seum by end of 2018; The on­e­storey tall al­tar at The Moda Goa Mu­seum

The writer is a ed­i­tor and the iconic ed­i­tor of Fem­ina. She is also an au­thor and con­tin­ues to be a strong opin­ion leader in the fash­ion and life­style in­dus­try.

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