The Green Room is a breathless spin around of a book. It throws people, places, cuisines, couture at the reader like a fast-forwarded ramp walk for the front row audience. It may be an appropriate reflection of designer Wendell Rodricks’ own life but, somewhere between summers in Lyon and monsoons in Goa, the certitude creeps up: This isn’t an autobiography I’m reading but a fleshed-out diary.
Just as well then that the superficial signposts of Rodricks’ life would have been at home in vintage pulp fiction. The eldest son of a respectable, hardworking Goan couple, he graduates from catering school, goes to Muscat on work, falls in love with a man, is encouraged by his lover to apply to design school, passes out with flying colours, returns to India, establishes a label that revolutionises Indian fashion. Well, not quite yet, the last bit, but yes, the broad strokes certainly make for a solid page-turner.
Full marks to Rodricks then, for telling a better story than a Jackie Collins. The Green Room is well-paced, fairly acutely observed, colourful and carefully candid. It also helps that Rodricks’ chops as a designer are beyond doubt: His signature fluid lines, minimalist cuts, experimental drapes and fabrics have legions of fans. Among the over-embellished excesses of Indian fashion today, Rodricks’ spare designs speak volumes about his sensibilities.
More, unfortunately, than The Green Room. One grouse with the book is that it could have been so much more. Rodricks takes us through the conceptualisation and christening of his collections but rarely allows us inside his head to figure out how the design process works, how a walk along the sea leads to the creation of the sensational mussel tops or a visit to a museum inspires a collection named after Byzantine princess Theodora. Also irksome is the slavishness to chronology, the month-by-month deconstruction of every year and the detailing of every New Year’s Eve party.
The biggest gap, however, is his sidestepping of the G-issue: As India’s first openly homosexual celebrity, his account of growing up gay in a pre-liberalised (and, ironically, more liberal) India would have been a trailblazer. He is unapologetically fulsome about his relationship with long-time partner Jerome Marrel – the Frenchman’s penchant for the finer things of life contributed immensely to Rodricks’ growth – and so the reader is thrown when his family suddenly boycotts their civil union, the first formalisation of their 21-year bond.
Because of these lacunae, The Green Room will remain a romp of a book, which offers a tantalising glimpse of the way fashion works but withholds any larger insight. And the most tantalising part? The mystery of Malaika Arora’s missing pantyline on her wedding day.
The Green Room By Wendell Rodricks Published by Rain Tree Price: Rs 595 Pages: 356