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 of Art, Kent, UK, 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 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 out on her own and took her collection to New York City, where Diana Vreeland featured her garments in American Vogue, after which she started selling to Henri Bendel, followed by Sakowitz, Neiman Marcus, and Saks. In the UK, Zandra was given her own area in Fortnum and Mason, London. She was Designer of the Year in 1972 and Royal Designer for Industry in 1974. A year later, she founded her own shop off Bond Street in London and in the boutique area in Marshall Field’s, Chicago.
Zandra’s own lifestyle is as dramatic, glamorous, and extroverted as her designs. With her bright pink hair, theatrical makeup, and art jewelry, 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 1970s. Her unique use of bold prints, fiercely feminine patterns, and theatrical colors has given her garments a timeless quality that makes them unmistakably a Rhodes creation. In 1977 she pioneered the pink and black jersey collection with holes and beaded safety pins that earned her the name “Princess of Punk.” Her posters from this period have been a continuous inspiration for makeup artists and are collectors’ items.
She has designed for clients as diverse as Princess Diana, Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, and Freddie Mercury of the rock group Queen. She continues to clothe and design for the rich and famous around the world, from royalty to rock stars including HRH Princess Michael of Kent, Debbie Harry, Bianca Jagger, Kylie Minogue, Anastasia, Paris Hilton, Joan Rivers, and Isabella Blow.
Zandra’s dresses are the ultimate dress-up dress. Helen Mirren, star of The Queen, wore a Zandra Rhodes when she received her award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and Sarah Jessica Parker dressed up in a Zandra for 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 collections are sold in top stores and boutiques around the world, but her work does not just stop with dresses and printed textiles; it encompasses various exciting licenses, including jewelry, wrapping paper, china for Royal Doulton, and furs for Pologeorgis in New York. She has also collaborated with MAC to produce a limited-edition makeup line.
Since 2000, Zandra’s career has diversified into designing sets and costumes for the opera. She first worked for San Diego Opera, who invited her to do costumes for The Magic Flute. After The Magic Flute, she was asked to design both sets and costumes for Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers in 2004. The show has toured around the United States and Canada, including San Francisco, New York, Washington National Opera, and L’Opéra de Montréal.
Most recently, she worked with Houston Grand Opera on Egyptian-inspired designs for Verdi’s Aida, which then showed at the English National Opera in 2007 and encored in 2008. This same Aida was the opening and closing opera for San Francisco Grand Opera in 2011 and was performed in San Diego in April 2013.
Additionally, Zandra has set up the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, which was officially opened in May 2003 by HRH Princess Michael of Kent. Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta designed the stunning pink and orange museum, which already has a preservation plaque. The museum is dedicated to showing the work of fashion and textile designers from the 1950s onward. This museum has created several notable exhibitions: “My Favorite Dress,” “The Little Black Dress,” and Zandra’s very own “Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles,” which is a major monographic exhibition exploring the 40-year career of the iconic British designer herself. Since the original opening of this exhibition, “Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles” has been featured in several museums in cities around the world, including The Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City; RMIT in Melbourne, Australia; Corso Como in Milan; the Mingei Museum in San Diego; and most recently the National Textile Museum of Kuala Lumpur.
Zandra was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1997 in recognition of her contribution to fashion and textiles and has nine honorary doctorates from universities in both the UK and United States. In May 2010 she was installed as Chancellor of the University of the Creative Arts (UCA) at the Banqueting House, Whitehall, UK, and has been made a dame in the Queen’s Honours list.
In summer 2016, Zandra was approached by Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli to collaborate on a collection of prints for their SS17 collection. This was to be Piccioli’s first solo collection for Valentino since the departure of creative partner Maria Grazia Chiuri. The starting point for these designs was The Garden of Earthly Delights by medieval painter Hieronymus Bosch.
In September 2016, Zandra’s Archive Collection launched on matchesfashion.com, re-creating some of her most iconic designs, including Princess Diana’s cherry blossom dress and the white kaftan photographed on Donna Summer on the cover of her 1977 album Once Upon a Time. The collection was produced, printed, and beaded by hand from within her London atelier.