The Iconic Zandra Rhodes

In 1974 – Freddie Mercury came to Zandras studio and selected this item from her bridal range to wear on stage.

Zandra Rhodes is an iconic fashion designer who has created some of the fashion industry’s most stunning and wild costumes.

Zandra – possibly most famously known as the Queen of Punk due to her conceptual chic safety pin outfits created in the 1970s, was born in 1940 in Chatham, Kent.

Her mother (Beatrice) introduced her to the world of fashion and design at an early age.  Beatrice was a fashion fitter for the House of Worth and taught fashion. Her mother died when Zandra was just 24 years of age but appears to have been her main influence and her idol. Zandra has describer her mother as middle class, very hard working and extremely artistic.

By contrast, her relationship with her father appears to be something of an embarrassment to Zandra. Admitting she didn’t get on with her father, she describes him as working class and being a bit like Alf Garnett. She has accused her mother of making a mistake and “marrying beneath her”, using her father’s job as a lorry driver to demonstrate that he didn’t want to better himself. Raised by alcoholic relatives after the death of his mother when he was very young, Zandra believes her mother felt obliged to be with him because of his tragic past. After her mothers death, her father married again to someone Zandra describes as “perfect for him”.

Zandra showed a talent for design at an early age and worked for the fabric designer Barbara Brown who worked for Heals Fabrics. From this point on Zandra studied textile design and she applied and was accepted to the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London. The RCA in the 1960s was the epicentre of design and contemporary art during that time. She attended from 1962 to 1965 and this was the inspiration for her world famous textile designs. In 1965 she graduated from the RCA and started making dresses from her own fabric designs.

Primarily a fabric designer, her early designs were considered outrageous and its believed she sometimes found it difficult to find work so rather than selling the fabrics, she would make the fabrics and then make the dresses which she found sold well.

In 1967 she opened a boutique in Fulham Road, London. It was closed after just 1 year but her costumes were still selling in other stores worldwide. In 1969 Marit Allen, American Vogue editor, British costume designer and fashion journalist prominently featured Zandras designs in the magazine. The high praise garnered by Allen appears to have opened doors to high end retail stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Fortnum and Mason, where she had her own section alongside top designers like Jean Muir and Bill Gibb. From this point she really became famous and her items became highly desirable.

Zandra has famously created costumes for pop stars and the very famous. Including David Bowie, Princess Diane, Princess Margaret, Natalie Wood, Debbie Harris, Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy and continues to design for both celebrities and royals.

In 1972 – she won a design award for Designer of the Year and in 1974 she was awarded a Royal Designer for industry award.

1977-78 Conceptual chic collection.

In 1977 she created her (Princess of Punk) conceptual chic collection which was created using tears in materials, safety pins and chains. She took inspiration from the punk movement and local street culture. She would say of her conceptual chic collection “It was a journey into London street culture […] but as with everything I do there were many influences at work, some lurking away in my subconscious, some staring me in the face, openly challenging me”.

On the 20th February 1985 Zandra was featured on “This Is Your Life”, a British TV series which ran intermittently from 1955 to 2007. The premise of the show was for the shows host to surprise a VIP guest going about their daily lives before whisking them off to a television studio for a sit down chat where the guest would have praised heaped upon them and would be surprised by friends and family to discuss their lifes achievements. Having the host of the show surprise a person with the famous big red book and the words “This is your Life” was considered a huge honour.

At the time of writing this blog, the episode is still available on Youtube.

Guests who appeared include her father who discusses the situation surrounding her birth during an air raid in WW2, New Zealand born actress Pamela Stephenson who Rhodes had given a dress to with the famous Manhattan faces design to the front for the premier of the superman III movie, French-American fashion columnist and editor Diana Vreeland and Larry Hagman who played J. R. Ewing in the US drama series Dallas. There was also a fashion show of a small selection of Zandra Rhodes designs.

She now lives in Bermondsey above her Fashion and Textile Museum. She sold her house in Notting Hill and purchased the warehouse, converting it by adding a top floor for her apartment. It has a large roof terrace and conservatory. 

There are certain designs that are undoubtedly Zandra Rhodes such as her famous Manhattan faces (my favourite) and Wiggle designs which she used in many different forms in both her jewellery, textiles and fabrics for her costumes. Her bold use of colour extends to many of her designs particularly in her use of her trade mark pink, which she wears in her hair with style.

The Zandra Rhodes items include fabrics, clothes , jewellery, bags, purses, business card holders, scarves, note books, bedlinen , perfume, ceramics and shoes. Some of the outfits and shoes are extremely wild as is the lady herself with her bright pink hair and wild clothing.

You can find a selection of Zandra Rhodes items for sale on our website: here.

More recently, in 2019 Zandra celebrated 50 years in the industry and in 2021 launched a range with IKEA. She has also been involved in designing the fabric for a Savoir Beds range, who have supplied the Savoy hotel since 1905. The design she chose was “field of lilies”, a very recognisable Rhodes design first designed in 1973 in Japan.

She has won multiple awards throughout her 52 years for her contribution to the fashion industry. She is seemingly as involved in design today as she’s ever been.

I was lucky enough to meet Zandra Rhodes in 2020 and she has an amazing personality and a great sense of humour which matches her wild taste in clothes and textiles.

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