Monday, 9 September 2013

Zandra Rhodes Unseen - The Exhibition

On to another really fabulous part of this day out ... the exhibition space itself contained the story of Zandra's development, the creative process, actual samples of work and the dresses themselves.  Unfortunately, the show is finished now, but the aim was to celebrate 10 years of the Fashion and Textile Museum, London, a place which is devoted to British Fashion and conceived by Zandra Rhodes as a celebration of textiles, which she felt hadn't been given enough importance in history.

Some little 'shadow boxes' contained interesting groups of 'tools of the trade'.  Zandra's favourite 'Tombow' pens - Japanese felt liners - which she uses for her sketchbook work - a drawing done every day.  (Also Dr Ph Martin's concentrated watercolours too - which I remember using in college) alongside sketchbooks filled with, as yet, unused colour work.

A sumptuous display of beaded dresses formed the centrepiece and a film loop of fashion shows played along one wall with videoed interviews featuring Zandra in another section.  All in all, a glorious visual feast...

Though I was most interested in the little surrounding displays which revealed work in progress and creative processes....

I love this 'don't panic' instruction ...

Zandra works 14 hours a day, 7 days a week and resents breaking off for lunch.  She begins at 7.30 and explains that by lunchtime she is practically monosyllabic - so intense is the pressure of work and creativity. She reveals that she can't do conversations through being completely immersed in the work and only allows herself some 'fun' in the evenings.  She is still working aged 73.  She loves travels and these inspire her collections, always being aware when on 'holiday' that she needs to find inspiration for her next work.  So really, she never does stop.  She has a determined resolution to get things done and may be perceived as 'mad' but is very stable and solid as a person.  She says that being British allows her to dare to be different and is not afraid of being laughed at.

In one of the videos I watched, she spoke of fashion being a cycle that you can't get off, unless you shut down completely and that you are only as good as the last 6 months.  She has her doubts and struggles, and then it happens...,....

Some of her travel sketchbooks ...

It was possible to chart her journey through the displays and the videos, from when when she graduated at the Royal College of Art in 1963 to the present day.  She explained that in her day, The Royal College was for artists, not dress designers, when all the big names in textiles were concentrating on furnishing fabrics, which, in the heirarchy of textiles, were the most important. No-one else was printing for dress, seen as lower down in the overall strata.  Zandra went straight from an art background into fashion, not knowing the conventions for pattern making.   She was influenced by artists such as Hockney and let her prints dictate how the garment should be cut to flatter the body shape, not jar or work against it.  The Royal College actively helped its graduates and she had an interview arranged with Pucci, who weren't particularly impressed and told her to stick to black and white, so she decided to go it alone.  She worked initially with the fashion design duo Tuffin and Foale, but made sure she had her name in there too.  She made her name in the US having only a couple of contact names for Vogue and Women's Wear Daily, wanting to make her fortune and never having been over there before.

So, on to the dresses - Fables of the Sea ... Secrets of the Nile ...  These collections formed the main centrepiece, the beading achieved through a collaboration with India.  Zandra works in a collaborative way with other countries rather than Imperialistic. I didn't catch the name of the lady who gave us the exhibition tour and revealed a lot of the history behind the dresses - my photo was blurred too! So apologies to her for missing her out!

Conceptual chic was the only collection not to feature print, taking everyday items such as safety pins and plug chains, turning them into something beautiful. Rather than it being 'punk' it lends itself to surreal influences, such as Schiaparelli  This was not a commercial success .... .

The ideas lead into the next collection of printed painted ladies in 1978, with safety pin and torn hole prints becoming more successful.

Her latest work is 'sketchbook' dresses, where images are digitally transferred directly to dress shapes.  She has moved with the times and these are a nod to Mary Katrantzou for example.  The images used in the prints could be seen in the sketchbooks next to the dresses.

She is also currently working on licensing deals with People Tree and ready to wear collections.

Licensing deals have always featured in her career and there were several examples of these collaborations.  

Love the tent!  (and I have that perfume ...)

Recently, she has worked on handbags and further jewellery collections.

Zandra lives in a penthouse on the top of the Museum, having sold her house in Notting Hill to finance it all. Her friend, jeweller Andrew Logan helped her find it - the building was an old Cash and Carry warehouse. She wants to concentrate on creativity and finds running a museum is a distraction from this and therefore it has recently been sold to Newham College, who are responsible for development, which includes short textile courses and tailoring apprenticeship schemes. I hope to go back very soon ......


  1. what a collections. And great that you get to share it.x

  2. I'm still buzzing Charlotte - wish I could have seen it all again ...


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