Veteran British designer Dame Zandra Rhodes talks Drapers through her fashion life, and the lessons learned from 50 years at the forefront of fashion.
Source: Gene Nocon
Dame Zandra Rhodes is one of the UK’s most recognisable and best-known fashion designers. Her eponymous brand pioneered the punk aesthetic and defined the style of London in the 1970s and 1980s. The label celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019, and made a return to the London Fashion Week schedule in February with its autumn 19 collection.
In March 2019, Rhodes was announced as a lifetime patron of Graduate Fashion Week, where she will help to judge the best student collections ahead of the gala finale show on 5 June.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
Get dressed. Unfortunately, I then open the computer and check my emails – while also checking for faxes. In California, I get to my computer at 5.30am, and in the UK I tend to start at about 6.30am.
What was your first job?
Designing prints and getting them printed for [1960s British design house] Foale & Tuffin, straight from graduating from the Royal College of Art [in 1964].
How would you describe your brand in one sentence?
Hand-printed exotic fantasy dresses.
What’s your coffee (or tea) order?
Coffee with milk – never from a coffee shop.
What was your last fashion purchase?
A wonderful huge gold chain necklace.
Emails or phone calls?
Phone calls … I never check texts.
Most important lesson you’ve learned during your career?
Always maintain your originality.
What would be your ideal office/meeting space?
My rainbow penthouse [Rhodes’s home above her studio in London is decorated with rainbow stripes].
What is your favourite part of the creative process?
Seeing my ideas come to life.
What has been your proudest moment with the brand?
Celebrating 50 years of it this year.
I rarely travel for pleasure and am often overseas working. I have been to Sweden, China and India this year.
Who in the fashion industry inspires you?
Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino: I worked with him on his first solo collection for Valentino spring 17 and it was a dream. He used my prints in such magical ways.
What is the biggest challenge facing fashion today?
Keeping going after one has been “flavour of the season” and not being a one-off shooting star.
What one piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Never give up – don’t fall at the first hurdle.
Who do you turn to when you need advice?
My wonderful friend [fashion designer] David Sassoon.
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
Working! Possibly cooking a dinner party for 12 to 15 guests and checking on my camellias in the terrace around my fabulous rainbow penthouse.
What are you looking forward to most in the year ahead?
The launch of my book – Zandra Rhodes: Fifty Years of Fabulous Fashion – and retrospective exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum, which opens in September. Plus, attending Graduate Fashion Week 2019 in my new role as lifetime patron for the charity.