With a career spanning 50 years, Zandra Rhodes has worked with the best in the business
Zandra Rhodes: My Life in Fashion! took place at Hotel Cafe Royale in Piccadilly as part of a series of talks organised by Regent Street.
Zandra Rhodes left college in 1964 after training in textiles printing and because she wasn’t a dressmaker she kept the structure of her pieces simple to allow the
prints to do the talking. In her factory she kept things streamlined with a limited colour palette but with patterns that would make a lasting impression.
Before punk were collections such as the American Indian collection of 1971 and the Mexican collection after crossing America in a WV camper van (all cactus prints and sombreros embroidery). She describes American Indian fashion as: “You didn’t know it was like Elizabethan amazingness”.
She worked with Pat Cleveland in Warhol’s Factory/Studio 54 and famously designed costumes for Freddie Mercury and Queen.
Rhodes always found inspiration from her travels: for example India in 1987 invited by the Indian government where she launched the sari collection, or the Egyptian collection 1985 (which she reworked in Aida).
She advises young designers to travel extensively and work abroad, meeting as many people as possible. You got to be with people with similar points of view, because it’s useful to be in a group and encourage each other, surrounding
yourself with people who won’t put you down.
Collecting and archiving are vital for Rhodes, who has just launched the Archive Collection with American Vogue; in the 1990s she founded the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey exhibiting all her pieces, and allowing her to make fashion more accessible (there are regular events for local schools plus crafting courses).
Designing for opera is one of her passions: she created costumes for The Magic Flute in San Diego, the sets for The Pearl Fishers in San Diego, San Francisco and New York, Aida at the ENO and Houston Grand Opera.
She mentioned she loves dressing opera singers, enjoying the process of transforming a size 18 lady into as a fairy princess.
She is currently working on Turandot repurposing her 1980 collection.
She hasn’t been asked yet to design for a film: “l’m open to anything”, she said.