Zandra Rhodes was born in Chatham, Kent, UK in 1940 and introduced to the world of fashion by her mother, a fitter for the Paris fashion House of Worth and later a lecturer at Medway College of Art. Zandra studied at Medway College of Art, Kent, UK, and then at The Royal College of Art in London. Her major area of study was printed textile design.
Her early textile designs were considered too outrageous by the traditional British manufacturers so she decided to make dresses from her own fabrics and pioneered the very special use of printed textiles as an intrinsic part of the garments she created. In 1967 she opened her first shop: The Fulham Road Clothes Shop in London with Sylvia Ayton. In 1969 she set up on her own and took her collection to New York where Diana Vreeland featured her garments in American Vogue, after which she started selling to Henri Bendel in NY, followed by Sakowitz, Neiman Marcus and Saks. In the UK, Zandra was given her own area in Fortnum and Mason, London. She was Designer of the Year in 1972 and in 1974 Royal Designer for Industry. In 1975 she founded her own shop off Bond Street London and boutique area in Marshall Fields, Chicago.
Zandra’s own lifestyle is as dramatic, glamorous and extrovert as her designs. With her bright pink hair, theatrical make-up and art jewellery, she has stamped her identity on the international world of fashion. She was one of the new wave of British designers who put London at the forefront of the international fashion scene in the 1970s. Her unique use of bold prints, fiercely feminine patterns and theatrical use of colour has given her garments a timeless quality that makes them unmistakably a Rhodes creation. In 1977 she pioneered the pink and black jersey collection with holes and beaded safety pins that earned her the name of “Princess of Punk”. Her posters from this period have been a continuous inspiration for make-up artists and are collectors’ items.
She has designed for clients as diverse as Diana, Princess of Wales, Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor and Freddie Mercury of the rock group ‘Queen’. She continues to clothe and design for the rich and famous around the world from royalty to rock stars including: HRH Princess Michael of Kent, Debbie Harry, Bianca Jagger, Kylie Minogue, Anastasia, Paris Hilton, Joan Rivers and the late Isabella Blow.
Zandra’s dresses are the ultimate dress-up dress. Helen Mirren, star of “The Queen” wore a Zandra Rhodes when she received her award from BAFTA and Sarah Jessica Parker dressed up in a Zandra for “Sex and the City”. Her vintage pieces have long been collected by Tom Ford and Anna Sui and have been worn by Kelly Osborne, Ashley Olsen, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.
Zandra Rhodes collections are sold in the top stores and boutiques around the world but her work does not just stop with dresses and printed textiles. It encompasses various exciting licences including jewellery, wrapping paper, china for Royal Doulton and furs for Pologeorgis in New York. She has also collaborated with MAC to produce a limited edition make-up range.
Since 2000 Zandra’s career has diversified into designing sets and costumes for the opera. She first worked for San Diego Opera, who invited her to do costumes for The Magic Flute. After The Magic Flute, she was asked to design both sets and costumes for Bizet’s Pearl Fishers in 2004. This has toured around the USA and Canada, including San Francisco, New York, Washington National Opera and L’Opera de Montreal.
Most recently, she worked with Houston Grand Opera on Egyptian-inspired designs for Verdi’s ‘Aida’, which then showed at the English National Opera 2007 and encored in 2008. This same Aida was the opening and closing opera for San Francisco Grand Opera in 20011 and was performed in San Diego April of 2013.
Additionally, Zandra has set up the Fashion and Textile Museum in London which was officially opened May 2003 by HRH Princess Michael of Kent. Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta designed the museum, which is in stunning pink and orange, and already has a preservation plaque. The museum is dedicated to showing the work of fashion and textile designers from the 1950s onwards. This museum has created several notable exhibitions: “My Favorite Dress”, “The Little Black Dress”, and Zandra’s very own “Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles”, which is a major monographic exhibition exploring the forty year career of the iconic British Designer herself. Since the original opening of this exhibition, “Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles” has been exhibited in several museums in cities across the world, including The Franz Meyer Museum in Mexico City, RMIT in Melbourne, Australia, Corso Como in Milan, the Mingei Museum in San Diego, and most recently the National Textile Museum of Kuala Lumpur.
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 from Universities in both the UK and USA. In May 2010 she was installed as Chancellor of the University of the Creative Arts (UCA) at the Banqueting House, Whitehall, UK and now has been made a Dame in the Queen’s latest Honours list.