Photograph courtesy of Zandra Rhodes; cover portrait photograph courtesy Jane Chilvers
British Fashion Designer Zandra Rhodes: a potted history
Growing up in the 1950s, British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes had early exposure to the world of mid century design through her mother, a fitter for a Paris fashion house. A visit to the Festival of Britain in 1951 left a vivid impression on the 11 year-old Zandra, the ‘Skylon’ and ‘Dome of Discovery’ in particular opening her eyes to exciting modern design possibilities. She went on to study textile design in the 1960s, but the traditional British textile manufacturers considered her work too outrageous. Her response was to turn to clothing design, where she pioneered the special use of printed textiles as an intrinsic part of the garments she created. Zandra Rhodes opened her first shop on the Fulham Road in 1967. By 1974 she had been made Designer of the Year twice and has since clothed everyone from Debbie Harry to Princess Diana. Her vintage designs continue to influence designers of today with both Tom Ford and Anna Sui among the collectors of her work.
Zandra Rhodes on mid century modern design
Zandra Rhodes tells MidCentury magazine about the three mid century designers influenced her career…
Zandra Rhodes on Audrey Levy’s Phantom Rose wallpaper
I first saw Audrey Levy’s Phantom Rose wallpaper design when I was training to be a textile designer in the late 1950s at Medway College of Art. We were sent to Manchester by our tutor, the textile designer Barbara Brown, to visit the textile print works and see mass production in operation, including wallpaper printing. The wet, dark mills still existed but the entrance ways and showrooms that displayed their wares were in stark contrast exceptionally modern. It was wonderful to see Audrey Levy’s wallpaper ‘Phantom Rose’ stretching up the double staircase wall in the showroom. It was the scale of it, its boldness and sophistication. You didn’t see things like that in Chatham in the ’50s! This was post-Festival of Britain chic. It inspired me; it made me want to design exotic curtains and wallpaper for the home, it lit me up inside.
Zandra Rhodes on Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans
Pop Art was a big awakening for me, in particular Andy Warhol’s iconic modernist ‘Soup Cans’. I saw these in the early 1960s when I was a student at the Royal College of Art, London. I loved his use of everyday objects, the way the images he created came from non-artistic sources. Prior to this, you wouldn’t have seen this subject matter in paintings or textiles and the work of Andy Warhol made me look differently at everyday objects that came through the letterbox – like the Omo Rainbow Men leaflets (which influenced a lot of my designs).
Zandra Rhodes on her Carol McNicoll teapots and ceramics
Everything in my London penthouse is modern. I collect contemporary British ceramics by Carol McNicoll and Kate Malone. I adore my Carol McNicoll teapots – one of them has three spouts and another looks like a crushed cushion. I use them every day. Museums sometimes borrow them for exhibitions and they have to turn them around to show the bit without the crack or the chip. For me, there’s nothing more exciting than hosting a dinner party at which my guests eat off these works of art. I love collecting contemporary British ceramics, as they can be used as functional objects as well as admired for their appearance! Carol McNicoll worked for me as a textile printer in the ’70s before going to the Royal College of Art. When she was about to leave, I asked her what her specialist subject was and she said ceramics. I asked to see her work – at this stage she’d designed fabulous pink coffee cups with hands for saucers – and I immediately ordered a set. Later I commissioned a whole dinner service.