When Zandra Rhodes first emerged on the British fashion scene in 1967, her work was considered by many corners to be too outrageous at the time. Now, of course, we recognize the pink-haired textile designer, known for her eccentric costumes and bright colors as one of the most iconic designers of her generation.
Having dressed everyone from Freddie Mercury to Princess Diana and Jackie Kennedy, Rhodes recently celebrated 50 years in fashion with a retrospective at London's Textile Museum. Her rainbow penthouse, which resides above the museum, is where she met with the team at Happy Socks, who enlisted her to create a collection featuring her signature prints and patterns.
Dame Zandra Rhodes hopped on a Zoom with PAPER from her rainbow penthouse to discuss her latest collaboration, dressing Princess Diana, the last 50 years and her thoughts on the state of fashion today.
How did this collection come about?
I've got a wonderful agent, she's from Finland and we were visiting Stockholm and we were doing a whole lovely interior thing and then I was introduced to Happy Socks and that was a little marriage made in heaven. So now I've got a lot of lovely Happy Socks all covered in my patterns so it was a wonderful experience. This was long before lockdown.
You've done many collaborations before from IKEA to Valentino. Can you describe what makes this one so special?
I designed a set of socks that would go into a magical folding box so it would make you feel fabulous when you undo this. We worked out how you can make the little snakes that I originally designed for tattoos that you could stick on your arms in the '60s that could become a sort of blue and yellow print that goes around your legs. Then my classic wiggles that I've been doing for years and putting onto all sorts of things and here they are all glittery with little pink dots and things. That's really fabulous. And then my magical buttons now, which are flowers, held in the center with buttons and then flowery heels and toes.
What else have you been up to the past 12 months?
Right at the beginning of the pandemic, I had to learn to do a selfie. Walk around and take little films of what I was doing with a selfie. That was a learning curve in itself whereas now we've got so skilled that I can put my computer up there and I can talk to you on Zoom. I think that has been one of the amazing experiences of this whole thing. We've been able to talk all over the world almost as if it didn't happen, not quite. It's still not quite the real thing, but imagine if we hadn't been able to talk to each other. I think we've expanded our lives in a totally different way.
What's the story behind your rainbow penthouse?
I'd already commissioned Legoretta who was renowned in Mexico for his lovely, colorful, buildings. I bought a building and I wanted it to be a magical museum and knew he's the right person for it. I ended up with this lovely, long penthouse with all of these windows which I first painted white, and then a close friend said "Zandy you can't paint this white it's not you." We drew chalk lines across the floor and we ended up painting, working out the colors of the rainbow going, pink, red, orange, yellow, right through and we made the floor continue on either side. It's really great. When the sun comes in it's lovely. But if the sun isn't shining it's still lovely and I've got all the chairs in pink and lilac.
Looking back, have you had more time to reflect on the past 50 years of your career?
During this whole thing, I put together the Zandra Rhodes foundation and we've been cataloging 100 chests of clothes. That's a sideline between doing Happy Socks, IKEA, and anything else that we've been coming across. So, I've been trying to revamp my life and redesigning my bedroom, so it's going to be the most magical boudoir. I don't want to say that it's yet going to be rainbow. I haven't decided. But it's going to have a magical Sapphire bed in it. Maybe I'm just going to dance around in my Happy Socks. All that has been able to take place because I've been in one place re-thinking it.
Have you been watching the show, The Crown?
I watched it very early on. Since I've been back here, I'm sort of gradually getting into the world of TV, which I sort of never was into.
Any anecdotes or any fond memories of dressing Princess Diana back in the day?
It was always a wonderful experience to go to the Palace and fit her. I remember when I first went in, there was the ugliest doll I've ever seen. It sort of had all fangs and it was like a Norse warrior and I said 'What's that?' She said, 'Oh, it's William's favorite doll.' It was a very ugly doll that she had sitting on the way in. But I never saw them because they were always tucked away when I was doing the fittings. She said to me one day, 'Do you still cycle?' I thought 'How does she know I cycle?' Then I remembered one day when I was cycling to my factory that used to be near Kensington Palace, it was pouring with rain and I was in this terrible old polyester knitted hat pulled over my head and there these luxurious girls waving at me behind big hats on the back. I looked the other way so I pretended I didn't see them. But obviously, it must've been Diana and Fergie (Sarah Ferguson) on their way to the races and they spotted me on my bicycle.
I'm curious to know if you follow closely the state of the fashion industry today?
I've been following what they've been showing and everything. I think everyone's putting their best foot forward that they can, not really knowing when everything is going to be released. I think that we're in a very interesting period where in the end, if we want the world to continue, we're going to have to make do with less. But make whatever we do use more important to us. You have something new that you wear with something old.
What are your goals for the rest of the year?
I'm looking forward to seeing all my friends and having dinner parties. Having them all around. I think we're going to dress up, but maybe what we've got to do is to treasure what we got to know about our homes and dress up to be in our homes more as well. It's going to be a very interesting period with trying to work out what really is going to happen and how we're going to progress.