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He's quite an activist: Jerome Marrel on his partner, Wendell Rodricks

by Sathya Saran  Nov 13, 2012 14:15 IST

#Fashion   #InHerEyes   #InHisEyes   #Jerome Marrel   #Wendell Rodricks  

Editor's note: In his first extended interview to the press in years, Jerome Marrel talks about his partner, fashion designer Wendell Rodricks. To add perspective to their unique and enduring love story, we've added information in italics taken from Rodricks' candid biography, The Green Room.

He is a designer who is best known for creating a signature minimalist style that has many followers among young designers, and a huge following among fashionistas of every age group. His partner, friend, philosopher and guide has been by his side from the very beginning of his career, and through the rigours of fame and success. Their relationship is a testimony to the strength of a love that has defied great odds.

Jerome Marrel and Wendell Rodricks.

Jerome Marrel talks about his partner, Wendell Rodricks.

Firstpost: It's been a long journey this far together. How do you see Wendell changed over the years?

Marrel: (Laughing) When I first met him, he was shy. Very shy. I think that is the biggest change in him. Now he is very confident, and sure of himself.

From The Green Room: Jerome and Wendell met in Oman, thanks to a friend who was trying to set them up." Hullo, you must be Wendell, I am Jerome Marrel ", was the sentence that would lead the way to a relationship that has endured more than a quarter century. At the time, Wendell was working in Catering for the Royal Oman Police Officer's Club, and Jerome was in Oman, pursuing his business. Before long they were a couple.

What effected the change? Did you have a role to play in it?

I think the confidence came by his being in fashion, which is his first passion. It came also out of the fact that I have always supported him so he can grow. Today he does not even need my advice, and does things on his own.

From The Green Room: Wendell credits Jerome with teaching him to live elegantly and in luxury every minute. A glass of water served on a tray, along with a flower, Rosenthal dishes for every day meals...candles and music, good wines... were the steps on which Jerome helped build Wendell's knowledge of the fashion world and his confidence.

In the book, The Green Room, Wendell repeatedly gives you the credit for his being a fashion designer. why is this, what was your hand in his becoming a designer?

I helped him follow his dream. I think he did the rest himself.

From The Green Room: When Wendell expressed a halting desire to go to America and study fashion, Jerome told him, "Well if that is what you want, we will leave Oman in two years. Stop sending all your  money home. Send what you can or what is extra. let's make this our last contract. You start saving seriously. Put aside 3000 rials a month. At the end of two years, you will have enough to see you through college in America." He added, "This is our dream."

We are very curious to see how he works, whether on his creations for fashion, or on his books. 

 I have never seen him at work because he wakes up very early in the morning to work. He wakes at five am every day and starts working; He wrote his books like that. Through the day then, he works with the staff and I join them. The research is done by us, he does the actual writing. Once he has finished writing, I edit the work for him.

And his clothes? How do they happen?

 In much the same way. Again I have never seen him working on the clothes, or sketches. He too does that early in the morning. But when we travel, I witness the process. He picks up ideas everywhere. It might be a building or a hotel, he will capture what he sees and draw it into his sketchbook. He always has his sketchbook with him when we travel.

Give us an example of one such inspiration.

We were in Lijiang, a small town at the foot of Tibet. He liked a motif on a tile, kept it in a sketch, and reproduced it on the front of a dress in his collection for Wills India Fashion Week held recently. Similarly, a cornice from a palace, or wall can find itself into his clothes. He records everything as drawings, photographs, if it interests him or he sees a possibility.

What else occupies you when you travel since you travel a lot together now?

We read a lot. Though he does not read as much as me. I read everything, from biographies to history, and often read four books at a time, to keep the balance. I read 12 to 14 books a month, half as print and half on my Kindle. Wendell prefers to read non fiction. He reads a lot about Goa, and books by local writers. Just now he is reading The Story of Milk.

Wendell does have a passion for Goa and things Goan...

He does. He's defending his roots, protecting his space. He's quite an activist in that sense, fighting for causes.

 Your lives are closely knit. So you must also be affected by the changes in his life, with so much work. What is the biggest change?

Too much celebrity! I hate it. I hate my picture in the press, or giving statements and quotes. The more famous he becomes, the less I want to be in it. The autographs, the press...

Does it lead to stress between you, then... It is all so much a part of his life now.

No, I just walk away when I am fed up. Yes, life is changed. We entertain more than ever before; everybody who comes to Goa wants to be entertained. We don't sit alone together for months!

His shows...do you see them all?

I do. I never see a collection before it is on the ramp, believe it or not. So I go to all his shows.

One last question. Tell us why you chose to formalise your relationship, and how it happened.

Some of that is in The Green Room. There was this case of the Austrian who lived in with his Indian girlfriend. He suddenly committed suicide. Then when the girl tried to enter her house, the police said you have no right, you cannot enter the house or take your belongings. Luckily for her, the Austrian consul helped.

It was the consul who told us, "You must be careful something like this does not happen to you. Do something about it." Which is why we decided to take the formal step. Now, if one of us is sick in hospital, the other can sign the papers, and even the property which is jointly owned is not a problem in the future. And in case of death, one of us can even bury the partner without the consent of the families.

From The Green Room: The actual signing of the Pacte Civil de Solidarie was a sober affair, with the hurt of a family rejection of their formal union in their hearts. No one from Wendell's family, who lived in the same city, came for the celebratory Christmas lunch that year, and Jerome and Wendell" went to bed that night fighting back tears,"  while the" forty kilos of pork lay cooling on the buffet table. " Feeling," dirty, drained, defeated." It would take a long time to make up with the family. 

If you had to describe Wendell in a few words, adjectives...

(After a long pause ) That is tough. But I would say: Bubbly. Very hard working. Looks for high quality in everything. And he loves culture, good food... We share that.