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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 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 it was featured in American Vogue, after which she started selling to Henri Bendel in NY. In the UK, Zandra was also given her own area in Fortnum and Mason, London. Zandra was Designer of the Year in 1972 and in 1974 was made Royal Designer for Industry. In 1975 she founded her own shop off Bond Street London.
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 1970’s. 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 a pink and black jersey collection with holes and beaded safety pins that earned her the name of “princess of punk”.
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 the rich and famous around the world from royalty to rock stars including: HRH Princess Michael of Kent, Debbie Harry, Bianca Jagger, Kylie Minogue, Paris Hilton and Joan Rivers. Zandra’s dresses are the ultimate dress-up dress. Helen Mirren, star of “The Queen” wore a Zandra when she received her award from BAFTA and Sarah Jessica Parker dressed up in a Zandra in “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 clothes are sold around the world but her work does not just stop with dresses and printed textiles. It also encompasses various exciting licences including jewellery, bed linens and handbags. She has also collaborated with MAC to produce a limited edition make-up range. In the last few years Zandra’s career has diversified into designing the sets and costumes for operas internationally. She first worked for the opera in 2001, when San Diego Opera invited her to do costumes for the Magic Flute. She was then asked to design both sets and costumes for Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers in 2004. This has already toured 12 cities in the USA including San Francisco and 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 opened at the English National Opera 2007 and was encored again in 2008 and most recently opened the San Francisco opera season.
Zandra has also devoted much of her time to setting up the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, dedicated to showing the work of fashion and textile designers from the 1950’s onwards. It was officially opened in May 2003 by HRH Princess Michael of Kent. Her exhibition: Zandra Rhodes, A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles, first showed here in 2003 and is now on tour after so far showing in Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City and San Diego.
Zandra Rhodes was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1997 in recognition of her contribution to fashion and textiles and has nine Honorary Doctorates and in May 2010 was installed as Chancellor of the University of the Creative Arts (UCA) in the Banqueting House, Whitehall UK.