Zandra's first collection

1. Zandra's first collection

The inspiration for Zandra Rhodes's first collection, The Knitted Circle in 1969, came from her childhood experiences of knitting, as well as from knitting with friends whilst on holiday in Wales, and also from the knitted textiles that she had seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Zandra Rhodes often refers to the inspiration of her mother who was a Senior Lecturer in the Fashion Department at Medway College of Design (now the Rochester campus of the University for the Creative Arts). In the video she talks about looking through her mother's sewing books and being inspired by the embroidery technique of chain stitch. From this she developed her textile print design 'Knitted Circle', which gave its name to her first collection, with the printed effect of chain stitch and knitting.

Detail from The Knitted Circle drawing, Zandra Rhodes Style Bible, 1969          Detail from The Knitted Circle Kaftan, 1960, Zandra Rhodes

Above: Details from The Knitted Circle drawing and kaftan, 1969 © Zandra Rhodes

As well as memories of her mother knitting, the designer was also inspired by knitting with friends whilst staying in Wales, such as British journalist Janet Street-Porter. She was also influenced by her visits to the Textile Study Rooms at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where she saw knitted bedspreads and embroidered bed hangings in chain stitch.

With a letter of introduction to Diana Vreeland, Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue, Zandra Rhodes set out on her first trip to New York and the designs for her first collection were photographed for Vogue worn by American actress Natalie Wood. The designer was also featured in Women's Wear Daily, and other revered fashion magazines followed suit. The entire collection was bought by the high-end department store, Henri Bendel, and snapped up by society ladies of New York, such as Evangeline Bruce, wife of the US Ambassador to the UK.

Circular garments

2. Circular garments

Zandra Rhodes was completely new to making dresses, having studied for her foundation and diploma in design at Medway College of Design, followed by textile design at the Royal College of Art. However, she turned this challenge into one of her strengths. As she didn't know the rules, it meant that she could invent her own rules for fashion design and be original and innovative.

The textile print 'Knitted Circle' consisted of a circle measuring 36 inches from edge to edge, in order to match the width of the wool felt fabric. However, she also wanted to print the design on silk chiffon and this fabric had a 42 inch width. The challenge was not to waste the expensive fabric so Zandra Rhodes added a border to the 'Knitted Circle' screen to make the most of the fabric. When printing on wool felt, the border could be blocked off.

It was also a challenge to print a circle on these different fabrics. Printing on wool felt was straightforward because it doesn't have a weave. However, when working with a circle of silk chiffon, there were problems to overcome to make the hems even due to the stretch on the cross of the fabric.

Once the fabric was printed, Zandra Rhodes would hold it up to her body and look at it in a mirror to try and decide what she was going to make with the fabric. By adapting or playing with the shape of the circle, and with the nature of the actual fabric itself, a circle could become a yoke or sleeve or skirt. In addition, elements of the design would be worked on a stand and pinned to a mannequin to create the desired shape.

The approach that Zandra Rhodes started with her first collection in 1969 is still followed by studio staff to this day. Her Pattern Maker describes the process in the video tutorial 7: Pattern Cutting.

The Ukraine and 'Chevron Shawl' collection

3. The Ukraine and 'Chevron Shawl' collection

Zandra Rhodes's second fashion collection was The Ukraine and 'Chevron Shawl' in 1970. It was the hippie era and during this time Zandra Rhodes was influenced by the well-travelled people that she met who were experimenting with wearing non-Western clothing.

In this video, Zandra Rhodes recalls the tasselled shawls that were a popular element of this look. She also describes how she was influenced by the tasselled Victorian shawls that she saw and drew at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. These dual influences inspired Zandra Rhodes to develop her 'Chevron Shawl' print with its printed fringe and printed wiggly tassels.

Using the same construction technique that she had developed for her first collection, The Knitted Circle in 1969, the designer cut around the shape of the print. She also experimented with using different types of fabric, including stiff calico for a pointed quilted coat, and light floating silk chiffon for skirts and dresses, as well as voluminous satin dresses and clothing. As she recounts in the video, she also attached feathers to her silk chiffon garments, sewing them on to the tips of the pointed hems.

The Ukraine and 'Chevron Shawl' collection was featured in Italian Vogue and British Vogue and was photographed by Henry Clarke and David Bailey and shown worn by model Penelope Tree. The pink silk chiffon ensemble was also photographed worn by model Bianca Jagger on the front cover of The Sunday Times Magazine, 1972.

New York and 'Indian Feathers' collection

4. New York and 'Indian Feathers' collection

On a trip to New York in 1970, Zandra Rhodes was taken by friends to visit the Museum of the American Indian (now the National Museum of the American Indian) where she was "knocked out with the intricacy of the beautiful feathers and the way they had used dyed porcupine quills as beads." This porcupine quillwork made her think of the intricate detailing of Tudor samplers with stumpwork embroidery, and she felt that the intricacy was just as amazing.

At the museum she sketched drawings of the feather headdresses and the embroidery. When she returned to her studio in London, she developed these feathers into a print design in which they looked as though they were sewn on with cross-stitches. Zandra Rhodes was also picking up on the themes from her first collection, which was inspired by knitting and stitching, as well as from her second collection, in which real feathers were sewn on to the hems of the garments.

Detail from New York and 'Indian Feathers' collection, 1970, Zandra Rhodes              Detail from New York and 'Indian Feathers' collection, 1970, Zandra Rhodes
Above: Details from New York and 'Indian Feathers' collection, 1970 © Zandra Rhodes

Zandra Rhodes created silk chiffon 'feathers' by cutting around the individual printed feathers and hand rolling the edges. She was also inspired to use colour combinations originally used by Native Americans, for example, printing her feathers with a combination of terracotta, indigo, black, and turquoise.

Inspiration from museums

5. Inspiration from museums

"I love museums, I’m a museum groupie" - Zandra Rhodes

Zandra Rhodes recommends visiting a museum if you are looking for inspiration and noticing anything that catches your eye.

In the video she discusses her Elizabethan Slashed Silk Collection of 1971, which was inspired by two different museum collections. The shapes were inspired by the sixteenth century Native American costumes from her visit to the Museum of the American Indian in New York, and her use of slashed fabric was influenced by the Elizabethan slashed silks from the same time period, which she had seen at the Victorian and Albert Museum in London. The resulting collection was modelled and styled by Grace Coddington for British Vogue.

Detail from Elizabethan Slashed Silk Collection, 1971, Zandra Rhodes       Detail from Elizabethan Slashed Silk Collection, 1971, Zandra Rhodes
Above: Details from Elizabethan Slashed Silk Collection, 1971 © Zandra Rhodes

During the Elizabethan period in England, raw cut garments such as a slashed doublet and breeches were worn by the wealthy and fashionable. However, Zandra Rhodes notes that in the early 1970s raw cut fabric wasn't commercially saleable.

Other examples of Zandra Rhodes's work that have been inspired by museum collections include: the 'Knitted Circle' print from 1969, which was inspired by knitting and woollen chain stitch embroidery seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum; the 'Chevron Shawl' print from 1970, which was inspired by Victorian fringed shawls; and the New York and 'Indian Feathers' collection of 1970, which was influenced by the intricate costumes in the Museum of the American Indian.

The Button Flower print

6. The Button Flower print

An ordinary everyday object provided the inspiration for Zandra Rhodes's distinctive 'Button Flower' print in 1971. The designer made a trip to button manufacturers J&J Stern in London where she bought some simple flower and geometric shaped buttons, which were attached to cards with pinked shapes of fabric behind each sample.

As she explains in this video, she started to draw the flowers like buttons stitched on to the fabric. The flower's centre became a button and the flower's petals were influenced by the bold, organic shapes of French artist Henri Matisse.

Zandra Rhodes also used the 'Button Flower' print as three-dimensional detailing. The 'Button Flower' motif was cut out and placed on to a range of garments, such as the shoulder of her 1971 'Dinosaur coat'.

Detail of 'Button Flower' motif on the 'Dinosaur coat', 1971, Zandra Rhodes Detail of 'Button Flower' motif on jacket, 1971, Zandra Rhodes
Above: Detail of 'Button Flower' motif on the 'Dinosaur coat' and a jacket, 1971.

The leading fashion magazines again featured her collection, with Clive Arrowsmith and David Bailey photographing outfits modelled by models Penelope Tree and Pat Cleveland for Vogue.

In the video, Zandra Rhodes mentions that she still uses this print design to this day. It can be seen, for example, in her Button Flower perfume launched in 2010. The 'Button Flower' print was also used on the fantastically unique dinner set by ceramics artist Carol McNicoll in 1972. This was created to look like padded PVC and was commissioned by Zandra Rhodes. The dinner set is still a cherished possession in her London penthouse to this day.

The 'dinosaur coat'

7. The 'Dinosaur coat'

The 'Dinosaur coat' is so-called because of the zig-zag shaped outside seams, which to the designer seemed to echo the zig-zag shape on the back of a dinosaur. Zandra Rhodes wanted to make the seams a feature on the coat and she hand-cut the zig-zag shape.

The shape of the thick wool underfelt coat and the panels of fabric were inspired by Yves Saint Laurent's green fur coat in a photograph for French Elle in 1971. The 'dinosaur coat' is shaped as if it was made from curved fur pelts sewn together.

The 'Dinosaur coat' was photographed with a matching wool underfelt hat by Bishin Jumonji for Anan, Japan in 1971. The appliquéd 'Button Flower' motifs on the coat and hat were a particular feature of the Paris, Frills and Button Flowers collection of 1971.

Zandra was the first fashion designer to make a feature of outside seams with her Elizabethan Slashed Silk collection and the Paris, Frills and Button Flowers collection, both of 1971. This is a theme that she has returned to with subsequent collections. For example The Conceptual Chic Collection 1977-8, featured outside seams highlighted with a contrasting colour stitch; red stitching on shocking pink jersey, or blue stitching on black jersey.

The sculpted coat

8. The sculpted coat

In this video, Zandra Rhodes describes how this coat is influenced by the shape of a shell:

"so that it is almost like the shell goes around the whole of the body".

Known as the 'Mermaid coat', this design from 1973 has a fishtail hem and the collar is held up by boning.

In the book The Art of Zandra Rhodes, Zandra Rhodes recalls that she was inspired by discussions with fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld about couture construction techniques and that this led to her use of boning to ensure that the collar was both supported on its own and that it also had the desired curvaceous shape.

Zandra Rhodes had been to Japan to do a show and had got to know the model, muse, and jewellery designer Tina Chow. The 'Mermaid coat' was worn with a small pillbox hat, which was beaded by Tina Chow with shell motifs to link with the appliqué shell motifs on the coat.

In her book, Zandra Rhodes also describes how she was inspired and "reawakened to shells" by the chance discovery of a shell-covered wicker basket in a garage sale near Woodstock. She also remembered seeing shell gardens near Clacton.

Using previous work to inspire new designs

9. Using previous work to inspire new designs

"My ideas are never static. I don't just design a print or a dress, produce it, and then drop it. The theme keeps worrying me to be developed and the original idea becomes linked to something new and is regenerated." - Zandra Rhodes

In this video clip, Zandra Rhodes describes how she often makes use of her previous fashion designs and prints from her archives and reinterprets them into new pieces. She also mentions that customers sometimes come to her and ask for a particular style that she has done in the past.

One example of a contemporary reinterpretation of a previous Zandra Rhodes design can be seen in her Autumn/Winter 2012 collection. The distinctive quilted jacket from 2012, which is shown in the video, shares the same shape as an earlier quilted satin jacket from 1973, but in different prints.

The walls of her studio can be seen at the beginning of this video covered with exciting new print designs and ideas that are in development for 2013. This includes a version of her iconic 'Sparkle' print, which can be seen on the far right. This print was first developed over 40 years ago and has been reintroduced and reinterpreted on her garments in later collections.

Sparkle print, 1971, Zandra Rhodes        Sparkle print, 1980, Zandra Rhodes
Above: 'Sparkle' print used in 1971 (left) and 1980 (right) © Zandra Rhodes

Certain dresses in particular have become known as Zandra Rhodes classics that are revisited every season and reworked, such as her best-selling dress known simply by its style number '73/44'. This feminine silk chiffon dress first came out in 1973 with a 'Field of Lilies' print, and has a deep v-neckline, long wide sleeves, and a full length skirt. It is finished with a satin sash in a contrasting or complementary colour, which is another Zandra Rhodes trademark.

73/44 dress, 1973, Zandra Rhodes        73/44 dress, 1973, Zandra Rhodes        One-shoulder dress, 1974, Zandra Rhodes
Above: 73/44 dress in two different colourways, 1973, and one-shoulder dress, 1974 © Zandra Rhodes

The '73/44' dress has been worn by well-known figures and women around the world. The dress was also highlighted as an iconic representation of the designer's work in the 2005 exhibition and accompanying exhibition catalogue, Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles.

Another example of a Zandra Rhodes classic is her one-shoulder dress first created in 1974, which has been re-worked in subsequent collections up to the present day.

Reinterpreting the 'Shell Spiral' jacket

10. Reinterpreting the 'Shell Spiral' jacket

Zandra Rhodes is famous for using her textile print designs to inform the shape of the final garment. The shape of the quilted satin jacket in this video was first developed in 1973 from a print of a spiral of shells.

Zandra Rhodes started this print with the idea in the back of her mind that she would cut around the diminishing spiral and end up with a snakelike shape. But as she states, when she tried doing this, the results "were hopeless". She then tried experimenting with printing the 'Shell Spiral' design on different fabrics and eventually came up with the quilted satin jacket, which uses the whole of the print design and follows its curved shape.

This jacket was reworked in her Autumn/Winter 2012 collection using a completely different print, giving it a whole new look. In her digitised archive, another example of the jacket can be seen from her 1985 India Revisited collection, which was made in black satin and hand beaded and satin stitched in gold.

The Ayers Rock Collection

11. The Ayers Rock Collection

Zandra Rhodes first visited Australia in 1971 to promote her work and fell in love with the country. During her trip she kept seeing postcards of Ayers Rock, now known primarily by its Aboriginal name, Uluru.

Photograph of Ayers Rock from nosha, on Flickr
Above: Photograph of Ayers Rock, courtesy of nosha.

In 1973 she returned again to Australia for work and this time she was determined to make a visit to the Rock. Out in the desert she walked, climbed, explored, and drew the Rock surrounded by sharp tufts of Spinifex grass punctuating the desert landscape like big pin cushions. She later developed these sketches of the Rock and the native Spinifex grasses into her print design called 'Ayers Rock'.

'Ayers Rock' print in the 'Textile Design Bible', Zandra Rhodes
Above: 'Ayers Rock' print in the 'Textile Design Bible' © Zandra Rhodes.

As Zandra Rhodes explains in the video, the 'Ayers Rock' print was based on the idea of creating a new version of the eighteenth-century French Toile de Jouy technique of fine engravings. She translated the sketches from her trip into fine line drawings, which she then cut up and moved around to try them out in different combinations.

She used the resultant print design on big square capes such as the turquoise felt cloak shown in the video. The print can also be seen on a one-shoulder silk chiffon dress, which was photographed for Vogue and also worn by Jackie Kennedy Onassis. This dress was also chosen by Zandra Rhodes as her favourite for the inaugural exhibition 'My Favourite Dress', at the Fashion and Textiles Museum in 2003, which included a number of personal favourites chosen by famous designers. The one-shoulder dress design has become a Zandra Rhodes classic, which the designer has reinterpreted using other prints throughout her career.

The 'dragon dress'

12. The 'dragon dress'

The 'Dragon dress' features Zandra Rhodes's 'Spinifix Landscape' print design and gets its name from the dragon-like shapes on the print.

Detail of the 'Dragon dress', Zandra Rhodes Detail of the 'Dragon dress', Zandra Rhodes

Above: Detail of the 'Dragon dress' with wiggly dragon-like shapes on the print © Zandra Rhodes.

In 1973 Zandra Rhodes made an inspiring visit to Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia and the spinifex grasses that punctuated the desert landscape featured in many of her sketches.

As well as The Ayers Rock Collection of 1974, the grasses inspired later prints including 'Spinifix Border', 'Spinifix Border Stripe', 'Spinifix Square', and 'Spinifix Landscape'.

Drawing of 'Spinifix Landscape', Textile Design Bible, Zandra Rhodes

Above: 'Spinifix Landscape' print from the 'Textile Design Bible' © Zandra Rhodes.

The 'Spinifix Landscape' print was designed to replicate a woven jacquard fabric, operating within the limitations of straight or diagonal lines. In addition, it had elements added from the 'Wiggle and Checks' print. At the end of the screen, there was a space so Zandra Rhodes added another wiggly line which looks like a Chinese dragon.

The Mexican Collections

13. The Mexican Collections

"I went with a boyfriend in a Volkswagen camper around Mexico and actually hated it" – Zandra Rhodes

After trips to the Australian Outback and across the United States which inspired The Ayers Rock Collection (1974) and The Cactus Cowboy Collection (1976), Zandra Rhodes had developed a passion for deserts and set off on a trip to Mexico. At that time in the mid-1970s she found it a complete culture shock and as she states in the video, "it wasn't very equipped for campers."

Whilst on the trip she drew great inspiration from photographing at the market places and by drawing at the Aztec temples, spawning a whole new collection with a new bout of print designs.

Photograph of sombrero by Halans from Flickr          Detail of dress with 'Mexican Sombrero' print, 1976-78, Zandra Rhodes
Above: photograph of sombrero courtesy of Halans; detail of dress with 'Mexican Sombrero' print, 1976-8 © Zandra Rhodes.

The idea for her 'Mexican Sombrero' print came from the giant embroidered sombreros that she saw laid out in rows in vibrant colours at the markets, which she photographed looking down from an aerial view.

Her drawings of the Aztec walls and temples inspired another print design called 'Mexican Turnaround'. As she describes in the video, she had drawn Aztec brickwork with decorative stones pressed between the bricks. This was developed into a print design consisting of a diamond shape of bricks with pebble-like detailing, as well as Miró-like motifs, and fan shapes based on the embroidery from the sombreros that she had seen.

Detail of dress with 'Mexican Turnaround' print, 1976-78, Zandra Rhodes   Detail of dress with 'Mexican Turnaround' print, 1976-78, Zandra Rhodes
Above: details of dresses with 'Mexican Turnaround' print, 1976-8 © Zandra Rhodes.

Zandra Rhodes used her unique construction technique that she developed with her first collection in 1969 to create the shape of the final garments based on the print design itself. The diamond rather than bodice shaped print of the 'Mexican Turnaround' led to new garment shapes such as the petal-type chiffon dresses like 77/1. Zandra Rhodes also dyed beads to match or co-ordinate with the print and chiffon colours. By dying them herself, many more colours were possible.

Dresses from The Mexican Collections have been photographed at the time worn by icons such as the models Bianca Jagger and Jerry Hall.

The Conceptual Chic collection

14. The Conceptual Chic collection

"1977 was the year I became the infamous High Priestess of Punk" – Zandra Rhodes

In 1977 Zandra Rhodes made a dramatic departure from her floating silk chiffon, screen-printed designs, which she had been producing and had become famous for since her first collection in 1969. In this video Zandra Rhodes explains the inspiration behind The Conceptual Chic Collection of 1977-8, which came from London street culture and the punk movement at the time.

This led her to experiment with tears, safety pins, and sink chains to decorate her garments created from black, shocking pink, and bright red jersey fabric. She is acknowledged as the first high-end designer to blend elements of punk with glamorous couture, and her designs will be featured in a 2013 exhibition 'PUNK: Chaos to Couture' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

"It was a journey into London street culture, that's true, but as with everything I do there were many influences at work, some lurking away in my subconscious, some staring me in the face, openly challenging me" – Zandra Rhodes

Whilst the press hailed it as Punk, Zandra Rhodes has acknowledged a number of other influences. In particular she was inspired by an earlier 1938 Elsa Schiaparelli dress with a print of jagged torn fabric shapes by Surrealist artist Salvador Dali. With its strategically placed tears, the collection can also be seen as a progression from Zandra Rhodes's earlier Elizabethan Slashed Silk Collection of 1971.

An interesting and frequently cited urban legend surrounds The Conceptual Chic Collection. It is said that when someone sent one of the outfits to the dry cleaners, it came back with a little bag containing the safety pins and all the holes had been mended.

The Renaissance/Gold collection

15. The Renaissance/Gold collection

The Renaissance/Gold Collection of 1981 was inspired by the combination of the royal wedding, historic dress from the Elizabethan period, and panniers from the Victoria and Albert Museum's collection of historic costume.

Vogue sent a memo around to fashion designers saying that there was going to be a royal wedding. Due to press speculation, Zandra Rhodes assumed this would be the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. Zandra Rhodes later went on to design silk chiffon dresses for Princess Diana in the mid-1980s, such as this evening dress, describing her as "like a fairytale princess."

The Zandra Rhodes Modern Renaissance Look consisted of a number of separate garments that could be worn together, or individually, to varying effects. For example, a gold pleated jacket could be worn over a plain black dress, as worn by radio host Sue MacGregor on the cover of the Radio Times. Whereas the singer Diana Ross was photographed by Richard Avedon wearing a bodice with pleated gold sleeves and gold pleated over panniers with black leggings. Zandra Rhodes also wore a version of her Modern Renaissance Look to the opening of the Barbican Centre, London, 1982.

The Total Renaissance Look consisted of: a quilted laced bodice with attached gold pleated sleeves and collar; gold pleated over panniers; a screen printed skirt in pleated black net; a pleated or plain gold skirt; and white cotton under panniers. This complete Look is in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and was featured in their exhibition Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950, 19 May 2012 - 6 January 2013. In 2012 the fashion photographer Sølve Sundsbø photographed this ensemble for the Royal Mail collection of British Fashion Designer stamps.

The Mediaeval Collection

16. The Mediaeval Collection

The Mediaeval Collection of 1983, as the name suggests, was inspired by historic costume from the Medieval period, also known as the Middle Ages. Zandra Rhodes talks in the video about taking inspiration from other countries, and for this collection she decided that she wanted to go back to the United Kingdom for reference.

The Mediaeval period covers a wide range of diverse styles across several centuries. There are certain elements that have been referenced in Zandra Rhodes's designs, including:

  • Elaborate headdresses, netted with richly decorated wire, from the 15th century. The Mediaeval Collection was styled for the posters and show with ornate netted snoods.
  • Tippets or hanging sleeves from the 14th century. The garment with style number 82/224 includes elaborate hanging sleeves in jersey.
  • Fitted under tunics worn with a sideless surcoat from the early 14th century and aprons from the 14th century. Zandra Rhodes included ornate aprons in this collection, worn over tight jersey under tunics.
  • An opulent colour palette, with shades of purple including lavender, lilac, and hyacinth, combined with pink, gold and bronze.

As Zandra Rhodes mentions in the video, the choreographer for the fashion show was the film director Derek Jarman who chose music from Zandra Rhodes's childhood.

Favourite catwalk show

17. Favourite catwalk show

In this video, Zandra Rhodes talks about all the elements that are needed to create a successful catwalk show, including the theme, the music, and the garments. Zandra Rhodes was an innovator with her catwalk shows and they were highly choreographed and theatrically staged at a time when this was unusual compared to the shows of other designers. A film of one of her early shows in 1970 can be seen on British Pathé, and another film of a later show in 1982 can be seen on YouTube, and there are several photographs of the designer's shows in the book, The Art of Zandra Rhodes.

One of her favourite catwalk shows described in this interview is that of her India Revisited collection in 1985. This show had saris floating down the runway to music by the Bengali musican Ananda Shankar. In the video, Zandra Rhodes describes one scene in particular that was choreographed to the piece of music called 'Dancing Peacocks' where the models were wearing lycra crinoline skirts, tight Indian trousers, and turbans.

She also recalls the show for the Secrets of the Nile collection of 1987. In this Egyptian-themed catwalk show, the models were asked to walk slightly sideways like hieroglyphics.

The If You Wish Upon a Star collection

18. The If You Wish Upon a Star collection

Zandra Rhodes is known for her theatrical and beautifully choreographed catwalk shows. The If You Wish Upon a Star collection of 1987 was no exception. The catwalk show ended with the song 'When You Wish Upon a Star' from Walt Disney's 1940 animated film Pinocchio. Zandra Rhodes is also known for wearing her own designs, and for this collection she chose to wear the dress known by style number 87/86 as she walked down the catwalk at the end of the show.

In keeping with the theme, the dresses are embellished with glittering hand beading and screen printed with stars. The main print, All Over Stars, was based upon her Egyptian stars from the Secrets of the Nile collection in 1987. The silk chiffon was made sculptural with the use of net underneath to support the frills, peplums, and other skirt shapes.

Although Zandra Rhodes keeps a sample of all her designs in her personal archive, in the video she mentions that unfortunately some of the dresses from this show were destroyed by water damage and were not salvageable.

Elizabeth Taylor wore a dress from the If You Wish Upon a Star collection, and Diana, Princess of Wales, wore a silk chiffon dress from the same collection, in the All Over Stars print, to the British Consulate in Dubai in March 1989.

The Denim dress motifs

19. The denim dress motifs

The embellished denim dress from Zandra Rhodes's The Fantastic Flower Garden Collection of 1988, showcases motifs in a wide range of techniques including: appliqué, hand beading, hand painting, ornamentation, pleating, satin stitch, and screen printed fabrics.

In this video, Zandra Rhodes describes how she did various experiments with denim, which led her to create this dress, which was hand painted with bleach that ate holes in the fabric. The dress was then hand painted in pink dye and embellished with studs, rhinestones, mirrors, and Swarovski diamantes.

What makes the dress really special and unique is the addition of found pieces of previous Zandra Rhodes prints in satin, which have been appliquéd on to different areas of the dress. Hover over the image below and click to view other garments from the Zandra Rhodes archive with these prints:

Frilly Button Flower Lipstick Indian Feather Sunspray

Above: Detail from the denim dress, 1988 © Zandra Rhodes; click on the dress to view other garments with these

The different pieces of Zandra Rhodes prints on the dress include:

  • Indian Feather Sunspray print on pleated satin fabric edging the front bodice panel and epaulettes.
  • Button Flower motifs in two different colourways have been appliquéd to each shoulder: one hand beaded like a corsage; another motif appears on the back near the waist.
  • Frilly motifs appliquéd like a trompe l'oeil necktie, trimming the cuffs, and on one shoulder.
  • Lipstick motif appliquéd to the centre front.

In the video Zandra Rhodes describes this dress as featuring pieces from other collections and "different parts of my life". Zandra Rhodes has worn this dress herself on more than one occasion, including recently to the Matthew Williamson show at London Fashion Week in September 2012.

Wearing your own creations

20. Wearing your own creations

"If you don't wear your own clothes, who else is going to wear them? You've got to feel convinced in what you’re doing" - Zandra Rhodes

Zandra Rhodes is known for wearing her vibrant fashion designs, which she styles with bold statement jewellery, bright pink hair, and vivid make-up.

The designer has used herself as a canvas to experiment from the very start of her career. Before she struck out independently in fashion, she went into partnership with Sylvia Ayton on their Fulham Road Clothes Shop in the mid-1960s. She recounts in her autobiographical book, The Art of Zandra Rhodes, that Sylvia considered her look was too extreme and that she frightened the buyers. At that time she shaved back her hairline and wore two sets of false eye lashes on the top and bottom lashes, lots of jewellery, and sometimes a turban. She later dyed her hair green and experimented with gluing feathers to the ends (see this photograph of Zandra Rhodes in circa 1970 on Corbis).

The development of her fashion collections and personal style can be traced throughout the decades through the many captivating photographs of the designer. For example, from a silk chiffon kaftan, to a punk-inspired outfit, to one of her gold-pleated creations.

To this day Zandra Rhodes continues to wear her latest collections, and from time to time, she also raids her own archives for a glamorous outfit from the past. For example, the designer was photographed wearing her 1988 bleached denim dress at the Matthew Williamson show at London Fashion Week in September 2012.

This video gives a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of Zandra Rhodes 'dressed down' in her work clothes in her private studio space. In this inner sanctum, she pursues her design work equipped with workman's tool belt and stylish bright pink overalls. She can also be seen in the video wearing a 'Z' shaped brooch by artist and friend Andrew Logan.

Digitising your archive

21. Digitising your archive