Born: Zandra Lindsey Rhodes in Chatham, Kent, England, 19 September 1940. Education: Studied textile design, Medway College of Art, 1959-61, and Royal College of Art, 1961-64. Career: Established dressmaking firm with Sylvia Ayton, London, 1964, and textile design studio with Alexander McIntyre, 1965; partner/designer, Fulham Clothes Shop, 1967-68; freelance designer, 1968-75; director, Zandra Rhodes U.K. Ltd, and Zandra Rhodes Shops Ltd., from 1975; launched ready-to-wear collections, in Australia, 1979, and in Britain, 1984; also designed bed linens and household textiles; opened a studio in California for interior design and fine art, 1995; launched Zandra Rhodes fur collection for Pologeorgis, 1995; featured designer with Lady Thatcher for U.K. Utah British promotion in Salt Lake City, 1996; featured designer for Designing Women, Costa Mesa, with accompanying book signing, 1996; launched Zandra Rhodes II, hand-painted silk ready-to-wear collection made in Hong Kong, 1996; created bed linens for Grattons mail order catalogue in the U.K., 1996; launched Zandra by the Sea ready-to-wear collection, California, 1997; launched Zandra Rhodes eyewear collection with Lygo Merx, 1998; created exclusive collection for Liberty of London, 1998; active in the British Invasion at Saks Fifth Avenue, New York, 1998; conducted Riga-Latvia Show and headed Fashion Forum, 1999; groundbreaking ceremony for the Fashion and Textile Museum, London, 1999; trunk show at Lilly Dodson, Dallas, 2000; opened Melbourne Fashion Week, 2000. Exhibitions: Zandra Rhodes: A Retrospective with Artworks, Art Museum of Santa Cruz, California, 1983; retrospective Works of Art, Seibu Seed Hall, Tokyo, Japan, 1987; exhibition of watercolors, Dyansen Gallery, New York, 1989; exhibition of scarves, dresses, and watercolors, Westbury Hotel in London, 1989; exhibition of watercolors, Dyansen Gallery, Los Angeles, 1989; exhibition of watercolors, printed textiles, and sketchbooks, Seibu Hall, Tokyo, 1991; Fabrics and Their Inspiration show and lectures, Goldstein Gallery, Daytons, Minneapolis, 1991; exhibition of watercolors, Dyansen Gallery, New Orleans, 1991; retrospective garment show, Mint Museum, North Carolina, 1992; Dressed to Kill, National Gallery of Australia, 1993; Street Chic, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1994; Couture of Chaos, Auckland Art Museum, New Zealand, 1997; Punk Kulture, South Melbourne, Australia, 1997; Cutting Edge Fifty Years of Fashion, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1997; The Surface and Beyond, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1997; Best Dressed, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1997; The Surface and Beyond, San Diego, 1998; Costume of the Ancient Egyptians, Manchester Museum, 1998; Exotisme, Musee de la Mode et du Textile, Paris, 1998; Grace Barrand Design Centre, Surrey, 1998. Awards: English Fashion Designer of the Year award, 1972; Royal Designer for Industry, 1974; Moore College of Art award, Philadelphia, 1978; DFA, International Fine Arts College of Miami, 1977; Royal Designer for Industry, Royal Society of Arts, 1977; Best Costume award for Romeo and Juliet on Ice, British Association of Film and Television Emmy award, 1979; "Britain's Designer", Clothing and Export Council and the National Economic Development Committee, 1983; Alpha award for Best Show of the Year, Saks Fifth Avenue, New Orleans, 1985; Woman of Distinction award, Northwood Institute, Dallas, 1986; Number One Textile Designer in the U.K. by the Observer magazine, 1990; Alpha award for Best Show of the Year, Saks Fifth Avenue, New Orleans, 1991; Hall of Fame award by the British Fashion Council, 1995; Golden Hanger award for lifetime achievement, Fashion Careers of California College, San Diego, 1997; Commander of the British Empire, 1997; Leading Woman Entrepreneur of the World by the Star Group U.S.A., 1998; Honor award from the National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association Honor for Del Mar Terrace, 1998. Address: Zandra Rhodes Head Office, 79-85 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3XF. Website: www.zandrarhodes.com.
The Art of Zandra Rhodes, with Anne Knight, London, 1984; New York, 1985, 1994.
"A Life in the Day of Zandra Rhodes," with Anne Whitehouse, in the Sunday Times Magazine (London), 24 January 1982.
"My Country, Right or Wrong," in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine (London), 10 May 1987.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, Couture: The Great Fashion Designers, London, 1985.
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Loper, Mary Lou, "Overdue Celebration for Nobel Laureate," in the Los Angeles Times, 28 January 1993.
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Williamson, Rusty, "Flight of Fancy: The Colorful Whimsy of Designer Zandra Rhodes Floats into Dallas," in WWD, 9 March 2000.
Gale Group, "Zandra Rhodes," in Biography Resource Center (Farmington Hills, MI), 2001. Herman-Cohen, Valli, "Wolfgang, Meet Zandra," in the Los Angeles
Times, 12 January 2001.***
Zandra Rhodes is an artist whose medium is printed textiles. Working in a calligraphic style uniquely her own, she designs airy prints from which she produces floating, romantic garments whose cut evolves from the logic and placement of the print itself. Rhodes has no imitators and her work is instantly recognizable.
In a field where novelty is prized, Rhodes' work over the years is remarkable for its consistency. Because the shapes of her garments are fanciful and fantastical, using volume to display the textile to its best advantage, her clothes do not date. Her references are timeless: T-shaped gowns of printed chiffon belted in satin; the full-pleated skirts and long gathered sleeves of Ukrainian festival dress; off-the-shoulder tabards finished with a fringe of dagging; children's smocking reinterpreted in silk jersey. Rhodes' clothes are extravagantly feminine, delicate, and mysterious—created, as one writer observed, for "contemporary Titanias."
Each collection of prints evolves as a thoughtful response to a personal vision. Drawing on traditional historic sources, on images from nature, from popular culture, and from her own past, Rhodes sketches an object over and over, entering into a dialogue with it as the sketches become increasingly abstract and a personal statement emerges. Only at that point are a series of these personal images combined until the right composition presents itself to be translated into the final screen print. The print determines how the garment will be cut. Rhodes was not trained as a draper or cutter, and she has not been bound by the concept of symmetry, conventional seam placement, or internal shaping. Many of her dresses are cut flat or with minimal shaping, sometimes incorporating floating panels that follow the undulations of the patterned textile. She favors large repeats on silk chiffon or silk net, and as the garment falls in on itself against the body, it creates mysterious shapes and soft, misty layers not easily known. Rhodes is without doubt one of the most gifted and original designers of the late 20th and early 21st century.
Rhodes began taking her artistry to much larger material. Pink and orange concrete walls, rotating exhibits, and lavish interiors are part of Rhodes' latest constructive endeavor for the fashion industry. She calls it the Fashion and Textile Museum, her lifelong dream. Located in Bermondsey on the South Bank of the River Thames near London Bridge, Rhodes is building the museum to exhibit local and international fashion and textile designers and to educate students of contemporary fashion and textile design. Rhodes planned to open the museum's doors in 2002.
In January 2001, Rhodes provided the San Diego Opera with her imaginative and brilliant style for the production of Mozart's The Magic Flute. She designed 127 costumes, which, according to Valli Herman-Cohen of the Los Angeles Times, included everything from a rhinoceros with mirrored mosaic paws to a fantastic Queen of the Night cloak. The extraordinary costumes were such a success for Rhodes that she also launched a Magic Flute -themed eveningwear collection.
Even with the success of her collections, Rhodes finds time to venture into other fashion and artistic territories such as furs, interior and exterior design, and even etched and cut-glass windows. Rhodes teamed up with artist David Humphries for her interior and exterior work; together they have fashioned a number of terrazzo designs such as the Global Plaza at Harbourside, Sydney, and the Del Mar House Terrazzo Project. Rhodes' unusual and exceptional designs are just as breathtaking today as they were when she began as a textile designer almost 40 years ago. Highly admired, Rhodes continues to be "the" designer for cutting-edge fashion in a variety of forms.
updated by Kimbally Medeiros
Born: Ilford, Essex, England, 27 November 1937. Education: Attended Walthamstow School of Art, 1953-57, and the Royal College of Art, London, 1957-60. Career: Freelance design work from 1959-63 included B.E.A. air hostess uniforms, 1959, clothing for B. Altman and Co. (New York), Count Down and Pallisades stores (London); worked at Costume Museum, Bath, England, 1960; designed hats for film Freud, 1960; formed partnership with Zandra Rhodes to open Fulham Road Clothes Shop, London, 1964; outerwear designer for the Wallis Fashion Group, Ltd., London, from 1969; freelance designer and pattern cutter for Keith Taylor, Ltd., London, 1975-80; part-time lecturer at Kingston Polytechnic (London), 1961-65, Ravensbourne College of Art and Design (London), 1961-67, Middlesex Polytechnic 1967-71; also external assessor for B.A. (Honors) fashion and textile courses, from 1976. Awards: Fellow, Royal Society of Arts, 1986; awarded MBE (Member of the British Empire), 1990. Address: c/o The Wallis Fashion Group Ltd., 22 Garrick Industrial Centre, Garrick Road, Hendon, London NW9 6AQ, England.
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Sinha, Pammi, and Chris Rivlin, "Describing the Fashion Design Process," [conference paper for the Second European Academy of Design Conference], Stockholm, 1997.*
I design for a chain of High Street shops, so I sell to a very wide range of customers who expect well-designed, well-made and well-priced garments.
The coats and raincoats I design must be extremely "wantable." My aim is to make thousands of women feel wonderful by providing garments that are not too boring, too safe, or too extreme but sharp, minimal, very functional, uncontrived, all very easy but with an element of surprise. I am a perfectionist. I care desperately about the shapes and proportions of my designs. I care about every detail, every stitch, button, and buckle. If the design is easy on my eye, it will also please my customer.
I don't design to a theme or for myself. Most of my ideas evolve from season to season, or a new idea just flashes into my head. I am very aware of my customers' lifestyle, and, as fashion is constantly evolving, I must be aware of the changing needs of women, and yet remain creative, experimental, and forward thinking. I design for a type of woman, not for an age group, and I become that woman as I design. I believe there are basically three types of women—the feminine woman, the classic woman, the fashion woman—and I feel she stays that type all of her life, whether she is 16 or 60.
I adore designing. I am always enthusiastic about my work, and get great joy from seeing so many women wearing my clothes. It is my job and my joy to make her feel good and very special, and to encourage her to return to the shops to buy again and again.
The name Sylvia Ayton probably means little to most British women, yet for the last several decades she has had a significant influence on what they wear. As outerwear designer for the Wallis Fashion Group, Ltd., Ayton produced fashion ranges in good quality fabrics at reasonable prices. Over the years, her coats and suits gained a rightful place in the forefront of High Street fashion.
Ayton's original ambition was to make women feel wonderful and special, as if each one were a "fairy princess." She dressed her first "fairy princesses" in the 1960s when she worked with Zandra Rhodes, Marion Foale, and Sally Tuffin. Some were private customers, but to her surprise, Ayton found that working for one person did not always provide satisfaction. During her career, she found the greatest fulfilment in designing a coat that will give pleasure to nearly 5,000 women. At Wallis, she produced two annual outerwear collections, mainly coats and suits. The cloth provided the starting point; each season came new fabrics and colors yet they had to be the right quality and price. These were used to create garments both fashionable but realistic—the typical Wallis customer was Ms. Average, but each woman had her own personality and lifestyle.
Ayton believed it most useful to divide women by type, rather than age group, categorizing them as "feminine," "classic," or "fashionable" types. This guided her attitude to her collections and dictated shapes and details. Each season, there were the classics: wool velour winter coats, gabardine trench styles, blousons. Of course there were always new ideas, unexpected twists, trims, or fabrics or completely experimental designs manufactured in small numbers for a few outlets. Alpaca wool coats, for example, were a luxury item featured only in a small number of shops. Ayton continually checked what customer were buying, and weekly sales figures provided an important guide. Sales influenced her ideas as much as the latest design intelligence.
Ayton has always been a realist who knows that business awareness is essential for a designer. This lesson was first learned in the 1960s when she opened the Fulham Road Clothes Shop with Zandra Rhodes, creating garments from fabric designed and printed by Rhodes. The press loved them, but their lack of backers, finance, and business sense proved fatal. For later designing, she thought like a buyer: pragmatic in seeking the best quality at a sensible price.
Ayton has worked unstintingly with British fashion design courses to instill high standards and to provide students with a realistic view of the industry. Annually, she organized placements in the Wallis design studio and pattern cutting rooms. Upholding standards is, in her view, essential. Having found her "fairy princess," she has spent years trying to teach young designers how to do the same.
Ayton visits Wallis clothing stores as often as possible to observe customers for herself, making her better able to create clothing for them when she returns to the design studio. She also collects fashion magazines from around the world and attends fabric fairs, usually in Europe, to keep at the forefront of the industry. Yet Ayton was never overly concerned with drawing up the newest, wildest outerwear on the market; instead, she focused on what clients will purchase. Her design process is cyclical, building upon the previous season as well as the last cold-weather season. She loses no time in warm weather, always looking ahead, researching markets and materials for the coming season as soon as production has begun on her previous work.
Working exclusively for a company label meant Ayton's name was not used to sell her designs. Her work, however, did not go unnoticed. She has received many awards, including the MBE for her services to fashion. The accolades are well deserved: as a designer Ayton has the right combination of qualities. She is a perfectionist and an idealist, but one with a very firm grasp of reality.
updated by Carrie Snyder
Zandra Lindsey Rhodes was born in 1940 in Kent, England. Her first fashion influence was her mother, who was a fitter at the House of Worth in Paris before she became a senior lecturer in fashion at Medway College of Art. Zandra Rhodes subsequently studied textile design at the same college for two years, before going on to the Royal College of Art to extend her studies. She graduated with first class honors in 1964 from the Royal College of Art at a time when design creativity was at a premium and London was the center of avant-garde fashion. After leaving college she designed for a print studio she had established with Alexander McIntyre, until teaming up with Sylvia Ayton, a fellow graduate, to produce a range of garments in which Rhodes was able to explore innovative ideas like her famous lipstick print. In 1968 the two decided to open their own boutique, the Fulham Road Clothes Shop, selling garments designed by Sylvia Ayton and made up in Zandra Rhodes's printed fabrics. Among their most innovative ideas were tattoo print transfers and paper dresses.
Although commercially successful, lack of financial acumen closed the business, and Rhodes went on become a freelance designer, producing her first solo collection in 1969. She was encouraged by a successful visit to New York, where she sold work to the department store Henri Bendel, but it was difficult to convince buyers from the big British department stores to stock avant-garde designers. Marit Allen, then editor of "Young Ideas" in Vogue, showed Rhodes's clothes in the pages of the magazine, even though they had no retail outlet at the time. The ploy persuaded retailers that there was a market for innovative design, and Allen introduced Rhodes's clothes to the London store Fortnum and Mason.
Renowned primarily for her evening wear, Zandra Rhodes produced instantly identifiable garments that reflected the early 1970s preoccupation with a floating, unreconstructed silhouette. During this period printed textiles were an intrinsic element of fashion, and together with Celia Birtwell and Bernard Nevill, she was responsible for the multipatterned and colorful look that defined the era. Her inspiration is rooted in the use of autographic sketchbooks, where she researched primary sources such as organic matter and transformed the initial drawings into her signature style: abstract, loose, screen-printed, flowing forms that play with scale and vibrant color combinations, all handmade and often including her signature "squiggle." Prints occasionally include handwritten text; one of her pieces for the Fulham Road Clothes Shop was a blouse printed with the name of the shop on the collar and cuffs, an early use of the logo. Zandra Rhodes was one of the first designers to use the street-style punk look, reversing seams and using safety pins and tears for a dress in the 1977 Conceptual Chic collection. Her personal style has always reflected the flamboyant quality of her clothes. She accessorized her outfits with outsized jewelry and sported green, then pink hair, with emphatic eye makeup and multicolored face paint.
Construction and Features
The construction of Rhodes's garments is very much inspired by the cut and form of vernacular dress. She is attracted to the simplicity of the shapes that are both functional and also use the whole piece of fabric. She notes:
I had come across the actual chronicle of costume, the definitive book by Max Tilke on Costume Patterns and Designs, its simple and detailed pages showing the cut and form of traditional clothing throughout the world. Details of armholes, wrapped trousers, embroidered
waistcoats and flat, worked-out-kaftan and peasant shapes were all explained with the simplicity of a gardening book (Rhodes and Knight, p. 37).
These garment shapes maximize the effect of the print, relying on layers, gathers, smocking, and shirring and often featuring handkerchief points to create the silhouette. The clothes are engineered to accommodate the placement of the prints, rather than cut from continuous, repetitive yardage. For this reason Rhodes's garments remain outside the seasonal transitions of mainstream fashion.
Rhodes went on to design handmade, elaborate, feminine, evening dresses using her distinctive prints. Her clients included the late Princess of Wales and Princess Anne, who wore a Rhodes dress in her engagement portrait. During the minimalistic 1990s, her fantasy gowns, embellished with beads, sequins, and feathers, found less favor with the fashion press, but with the revival of vintage fashion in the early 2000s, her clothes are once again sought after.
Zandra Rhodes has been the recipient of many academic and professional awards over the years, including honorary doctorates from the Royal College of Art and other universities in both Great Britain and the United States. She was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1997 in recognition of her services to the fashion and textile industry. Early in the twenty-first century, Rhodes was spending some of her time in San Diego, California, and it was here that she was invited to design the costumes for the San Diego Opera's production of The Magic Flute in 2001, garments that received great critical acclaim.
Rhodes has diversified her design business into household linens and textiles, glassware, linens, cushions, throws, rugs, and screens. In collaboration with the artist David Humphries, she fashioned a number of terrazzo designs, such as the Global Plaza at Harbourside in Sydney, Australia, and the Del Mar House Terrazzo project in California, for which she was given an honor award by the National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association in 1998.
In 2003 Zandra Rhodes realized a long-held ambition to open a museum. The strikingly colored frontage of her Fashion and Textile Museum has become one of London's landmarks. Sited in Bermondsey on the south bank of the river Thames, it was designed by the Mexican architect Ricardo Legoreta. As a select showcase for contemporary and vintage fashion and textile design, the museum is intended to provide an accessible archive and resource center. It also seeks to generate discourse on design by providing a forum for debate and student activity. The inaugural exhibition, My Favourite Dress, included the work of seventy of the most internationally renowned contemporary designers, including John Galliano, Yohji Yamamoto, Julien MacDonald, Antonio Berardi, Roland Mouret, and Sophia Kokosalaki.
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