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Zandra Rhodes: A Fashion Icon

5th July 2022.

Zandra Rhodes is one of the most influential British designers of the twenty and twenty-first century. Born in Kent in 1940 she was surrounded by the love of art and textiles from an early as she watched her mother teach at the Medway College of Art and later became a Professor at the University of Creative Arts. Rhodes progressed to Medway College of Art before winning a scholarship to Royal College of Art. After leaving university she set up the boutique The Fulham Road Clothes Shop with her fellow course mate Sylvia Ayton. The pair were known for their innovative ideas such as tattoo print transfers and paper dresses and it was within this shop that she established her now iconic lipstick print.

However, these controversial designs were deemed outrageous by the traditional British retailers in the 1960s and she failed to establish herself within Britain. Rhodes moved to New York, and it was here that she caught the eye of the Vogue Editor Marit Allen who in 1969 included her works American Vogue. Allen helped Rhodes sell her collections to the big brands in the US like Henri Bendel and Saks. This allowed Rhodes to be taken seriously in the UK and she went on to sell clothes in Fortum and Masons. She became part of the new wave of British designers who put London on the international fashion scene in the 1970s. Her flowing forms of vibrant colour and patterns were creative statements in their originality. Her early inspirations were the likes of Andy Warhol and Emilio Pucci, which is reflected throughout her career. As she progressed, she began to take inspiration from international cultures, using Native American India symbols, Chevron stripes from the Ukraine and Japanese flowers, which are evident in the dresses and scarfs shown here. Her aim was for her clothes to be simple and functional in shape and yet wild in design.


Below are a selection of Zandra Rhodes Dresses from coming up in the Costume, Accessories & Textiles Sale on 20th August. 

Her career hit an all-time high in the 1970s and 1980s as her garments began to be worn by Princess Diana and Princess Anne but also by the rock legends Freddie Mercury and Brain May. She was fast becoming an icon of British Culture. At this point Rhodes began to extend her art into multidisciplinary design. In 1978 she released her first interior home collection; her prints were shown on textiles, glassware and tableware. She further expanded her work into sets and costumes for San Diego Opera, Houston Grand Opera and English National Opera. The broad nature of her work allowed her to be recognised in many avenues of the creative world. Over the course of career, she has received multiple academic and professional awards and in 1997 she was made a Commander of the British Empire. As minimalistic fashion took over in the 1990s, she began to lose fame but as the revival of the vintage began in the early 2000s her clothes were sought after once again. It was at this stage that she founded the Fashion and Textile Museum in London in 2003, which is still the only museum dedicated to show modern and contemporary textile design. Her more recent accomplishments are receiving the Walpole Luxury British Legend Award in 2019 and launching a 26-piece homeware collection with Ikea in 2021. At the age of 81 she remains an icon of British culture as her career continues flourish.


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By Tryphaena Smith, Intern

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