Fashion and textile designer Dame Zandra Rhodes' formidable career spans over 50 years, and at 79 she's still putting out influential collections.
One of the most iconic British designers of all time — who notably dressed Princess Diana on numerous occasions — Zandra has been fashion royalty for generations.
Finding fame in the sixties, she dressed superstars including Freddie Mercury and Shirley Bassey and created the gown for Princess Anne's engagement announcement in 1973. Fast forward to the noughties, and her designs were being worn by the likes of Kate Moss and shot in Sex and the City. Her fashion light has never dimmed... and neither has her pink hair.
We sat down for a Zoom chat with the woman who's seen it all, to talk fashion and art in lockdown, as well as her remarkable career.
Good Housekeeping: It's hard to envision you in hoodies or sweatpants, what's been your lockdown attire?
Dame Zandra Rhodes: Whatever the day, I make sure my hair's kept pink and I'm made up with eye makeup and lipstick. Then, you're looking at me [on Zoom] and I've got my nice pink blouse and my jewellery, I feel dressed up. But when you look further down — wait for this — green Crocs. I just wear old tracksuit trousers and concentrate on the bit that shows.
I wear things that are easy to walk around in and then surround myself with the colourful bits.
Yes, your house really is incredible, so it's not surprising to hear that you've got a homeware collaboration with IKEA in the works. What can we expect?
Oh it's so exciting! We've got quilts, cushions, bath mats. It's not being launched until September, 2021, but we're about to bring out a pink fraktur bag [the iconic Ikea shopping bags], that's got frills on. It's the Zandra Rhodes one. That comes out this September.
What would be your advice for people who shy away from colour as they get older?
I was given a challenge once, of wearing black every day for a week. It was extremely difficult to find it in my wardrobe. I felt less confident, I felt boring. I did dolly it up with a coloured scarf and a broach, but I didn't feel me. And I think that it's important that people try and feel themselves somehow.
Think of enjoyment and not worrying about if people are going to mind what you look like. Although I know that's easier said than done.
I've never worried what people thought of me, which is useful. I once got a letter from a girl saying: "Congratulations on how well you're doing. I'm sorry I always used to laugh at you on the bus to school." Well I'm lucky I had such a thick skin, I didn't know she used to laugh at me.
What do you think is an ultimate wardrobe staple?
Probably a pair of sneakers. And you can paint them up, so they don't always have to be the most expensive Balenciagas that you can find.
You've been in the industry so long, who is the most memorable person you've dressed?
"It was fun to do Barbra Streisand's opening pink chiffon outfit when she was singing in Hyde Park last year; that's the latest one. But then you see it pop up in Google, along with outfits I did for Princess Diana, Jackie Kennedy, and that seems so long ago now that we're all shut away.
With a nod to the very beginning of your career, you've been working on a big instillation through the streets of Seven Dials in London, where you had your first studio. That must have been pretty nostalgic?
My very very first studio, in 1964, was on the corner of Neal Street. So it brings back a whole lot of memories. I turned to designs that I'd done in the 60s - arrows, my flowers, mad designs with the rainbow man from soap commercials I did.
I don't think life's ever going to go back to what it was [before lockdown], it can't. And we're going to have hard times without money and all sorts of things. So we should do the best we can to make areas fabulous and happening, just because it can give you a lift if you've been feeling trapped inside.
Visit Seven Dials in the heart of London to discover the exclusive street art created by globally renowned fashion designer Zandra Rhodes sitting alongside international flagships and concept stores, renowned beauty and grooming salons, as well as over 50 vibrant cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs. To find out more about Seven Dials visit www.sevendials.co.uk/features/rhodes-on-the-roads/ or follow Seven Dials on Instagram (@7Dials).
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