A Shock in Pink
Zandra Rhodes wearing "Renaissance Gold" collection, photographed by Robyn Beeche, 1986
Britain’s pioneer of print, Zandra Rhodes is determined to keep the spirit of handcraft alive through her nostalgic designs in the midst of a digital age.
The sharp, shocking pink bob is perhaps the first association one would make on hearing the mention of Dame Zandra Rhodes, the fashion figure who has been ceaselessly producing textile designs, era-defining clothing and interiors now for over fifty years. Her garments, which she aptly refers to as “butterflies” due to the weightless patterned chiffon of which the majority are constructed, have adorned the likes of Princess Diana, Jackie Onassis and Queen’s Freddie Mercury to name a few.
In the ‘60s, when Rhodes first ventured into the world of fashion, art was everywhere. It had shifted out from under the confines of the high-culture sphere, formerly reserved for the social elite, and into the commercial landscape that catered to the masses. The everyday became a catalyst for the creatives, Rhodes included - more than that, the ordinary became art in its own right.
In Rhodes’ Bermondsey studio the spirit of Pop Art is very much alive and kicking. It houses one of the few active printing tables left in London - from sketches of the mundane-cum-outlandish textile designs in a clashing array of hues, which are then transformed into the 'wearable art' that put Rhodes’ prints on Britain’s fashion map. In 1968 she opened The Fulham Road Clothes Shop with fellow Royal College of Art graduate Sylvia Ayton, who was the first to turn Rhodes’ prints into garments before it dawned that they had "too strong a personality" to fit into someone else’s designs. Ever since, the print has always informed the look and shape of Rhodes’ garments.
It's rare to find a designer who has stayed true to the ethos of quality over quantity
Five decades later, screen printing has lost the reputation it had when Andy Warhol, the darling of Pop Art, used the technique to produce his iconic prints. It is becoming what Rhodes refers to as a “dying trade”, since the takeover of digital printing, which took off in the mid ‘90s.
Despite experiencing setbacks, including having to close her London shop in Bond Street and factory in Olympia, Rhodes has persevered with absolute gusto. “I have never compromised my design quality, and I think staying true to this and waving the flag for a British product is very important” she tells me. It is rare to find a designer who has stayed true to the ethos of quality over quantity, especially considering today’s fast paced fashion industry. With garment production slowing, it is the prints that continue to endure. They have most recently been snapped up by the likes of Valentino for SS17, Three Graces in 2019 and IKEA, the Swedish furniture conglomerate that has a habit of making customers leave with everything but what they came for.
Now, it’s more important than ever for us to turn our attention to the people who create with their hands, who find inspiration in the streets and not the screen, who go with their guts instead of walking to the beat of the masses. As Rhodes told the podcast series, The Last Bohemians, “If you’ve got something to contribute... keep doing it, because it gives your days a sort of wonderfulness”.
Read more on Zandra Rhodes here.