With her pink hair, theatrical makeup and art jewelry, Dame Zandra Rhodes has spent six decades boldly making a name for herself in the international world of fashion.
Rhodes’ secret: Never bend to the pressures of designing to a trend or bowing to the demands of the industry.
“Mainly, I design things that I like,” said the 76-year-old iconic British textile and fashion designer who has dressed, among others, Princess Diana, Freddie Mercury, Helen Mirren, Sarah Jessica Parker and Lauren Bacall.
Rhodes was the second speaker sponsored by The Jeannene Booher Fashion Lecture Series, which launched in November 2016 with a $1 million gift from Booher, a 1956 alumna of the Stephens College fashion program. More than 150 people attended her lecture on April 4 at the Kimball Ballroom in Lela Raney Wood Hall on the Stephens College campus.
Besides her lecture, Rhodes met with students in Stephens courses on pattern to print and printmaking on fabric.
Dr. Monica McMurry, dean of the School of Design, said Rhodes’ visit to campus was “an opportunity of a lifetime” for fashion students.
Rhodes told students she originally went to Medway College of Art and Design in England to become a book illustrator, but was soon inspired by an instructor who taught textile design. She then enrolled at The Royal College of Art in London, where her major area of study was printed textile design.
After college, however, Rhodes struggled to sell her textile designs.
“People said, ‘These are too extreme. What are you going to do with them?,’” Rhodes said.
Instead of changing her designs, Rhodes produced dresses with her own fabrics and began designing styles influenced by the prints she created. In 1969, she took her collection to New York, where editor Diana Vreeland put her garments on Natalie Wood for a spread in American Vogue.
The article launched Rhodes’ career.
Today, Rhodes continues to design on paper and rarely turns to the computer for help. Each of her garments is hand-silk-screen printed in her London studio on an 8- to 9-yard printing table. The garments are then sewn and hand-beaded.
This spring, Valentino launched a collection in prints inspired by Rhodes. In September 2016, Rhodes’ Archive Collection launched on matchesfashion.com, which is a recreation of some of her most iconic designs, including Princess Diana’s cherry blossom dress and the white kaftan photographed on Donna Summer on the cover of her 1977 album “Once Upon a Time.”
When asked how she deals with creative blocks, Rhodes smiled and said: “Feel sorry for myself and bore my friends stupid by saying, ‘I’m stuck again.’”
Ultimately, Rhodes told students the best way to deal with being stuck is to keep on working.
“Try and push yourself into not giving up, even if that means drawing the same flower again and again,” she said. “Something, in the end, will get you out of it. But the main thing is not to give up.”
Rhodes has pieces in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and the Fashion Institute of Technology’s library. She is best known for creating unique fashion pieces, timeless bold prints, fiercely feminine patterns and theatrical uses of color.
In addition, Rhodes founded the Fashion and Textile Museum of London and designed costumes for the San Diego Opera’s “The Magic Flute” and Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers.”
Photo credit for Dame Zandra Rhodes portrait: Molly Wallace ’17
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