In the spotlight: Zandra Rhodes

Posted on: 17 February 2011 by Rhian Mainwaring

What makes Zandra Rhodes a great British institution?

Zandra Rhodes

When you think of Zandra Rhodes there’s probably a couple of things that spring to mind, firstly that iconic bright pink hair and secondly, eccentric bright prints that have epitomised fashion eras of the past 50 years...

Zandra Rhodes’ passion for fashion and textiles came from her mother who was a dresser in Paris, her mother also taught at Medway College where Zandra ended up attending, but it was at the Royal College of Art where Rhodes’ love of textile design began.

Her first collection of imaginative and bold prints were originally considered too outrageous for the British fashion market in the 1960s, so she turned designer as well, using her own prints to create garments which she began to sell in The Fulham Road Clothes Shop in 1967 with partner Sylvia Ayton.

By 1969 Zandra had set up on her own, was featured in US Vogue, the accolade of British Designer of the year followed in 1972 and by 1975 she had her own Bond Street shop stocking her own designs in her trademark prints which led her to start dressing the A-list.

Over the years she’s dressed the likes of Princess Diana, Kylie Minogue, Debbie Harry, Joan Rivers, Paris Hilton, Bianca Jagger and the late Isabelle Blow. Her work, both past and present continues to dress the rich and famous with the label as hot in the vintage markets of Portobello as the boutiques of Bond Street.

We went to meet the lady in person at Pure London, a fashion trade event at London Olympia. Her bright pink hair, theatrical make up and chunky outrageous jewellery should seem eccentric, but on Zandra Rhodes they seems perfectly natural. Her flamboyant personality and unusual style also make her seemingly ageless. Although she is certainly older and wiser, she looks as fresh and current as she did back in the Seventies.

When we spoke to Zandra she only had one bee in her bonnet, and that was the fashion industry's focus on garment design and not print or textile. “That iconic Chanel suit, yes it’s a great cut, but it’s the fabric that makes it stand out, that weave was designed by somebody – but who it was? Well we don’t know!” She added “Look at Celia Birtwell, she’s only receiving credit now Ozzie Clarke isn’t around and it’s her prints that made that iconic seventies look!”

It's her obsession with textiles that inspired her latest book, Zandra Rhodes - A lifelong love affair with Textiles, (which she name dropped more than once at the event), a high end coffee table book packed with images and archive material showcasing her work, design techniques and inspiration. She takes the reader on a journey from the sketch book to the printing table, which for textile aficionados or aspiring designers is a real gem.

Her love of colour now translates into an abundance of design projects, from her own collections of clothing, footwear and jewellery on to collaborations with Royal Doulton, Marks & Spencers, and Millets (Yes, you can even buy a Zandra Rhodes tepee!). With all of that to keep her busy, we didn't dare mention the R word to her. Zandra retire? Not any time soon!

Her career has now spread to theatrical design, where she has designed set and costume for a series of Operas, her most recent work was for the Houston Grand Opera where she created Egyptian-inspired designs for Verdi's 'Aida', which opened at the English National Opera.

Perhaps the most apt contribution Zandra has made, one which she is immensely proud of and has spent a lot of time on, is her Fashion and Textile museum in London. The museum is dedicated to fashion and textile designers from the 1950s to present day and uses its space to also run courses for students in design and business. Founded by Zandra Rhodes and situated in hip Bermondsey South London, the museum of Fashion and Textile has been recently redeveloped to sit alongside Newham College, one of the key markers in  Zandra Rhodes' illustrious career.

As well as her design accolades, Zandra was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1997 in recognition of her contribution to fashion and textiles and has nine Honorary Doctorates. In May 2010 she was installed as Chancellor of the University of the Creative Arts (UCA) in the Banqueting House, Whitehall and has been given the keys to the cities of Florida, Beverley Hills and New Orleans. We think that qualifies as a great British institution!

 Zandra bookYou can buy Zandra's latest book here

Find out what's going on at the Fashion and Textile museum here

Relish some of her vintage creations here

AND Shop her collections here

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