Born in 1940 in Chatham, Kent to a strong-minded mother who was a lecturer in fashion at the Medway College of Art and previously a fitter in the Parisian couture house of Worth, Rhodes originally intended to make a career in furnishing fabrics. However, as she began her education, she realized she couldn’t get away from her destiny to become a fashion designer.
Known as the “High Priestess of Punk,” Zandra Rhodes graduated from the Royal College of Arts in 1964, at a time when fashion was embracing and celebrating the youthful body. Fashion of the time invoked a state of anarchy, showing dissent and protest as well as exuberant eclecticism. A self-taught fashion designer who was trained as a textile designer, Rhodes experimented with color and prints from the early days of her career. Rhodes’ organic design approach makes her clothes unique. She also has mastered the use of color, pattern, proportion and spatial impact in clothing.
In 1969, Rhodes launched her first solo collection and was regarded as the foremost designer of the time. The clothes from her first collection were purchased by Fortnum & Mason in London and Henri Bendel in New York City, among other stores. Rhodes’ style centers on a love affair with color and prints. In 1977 she began to explore the deconstruction of the fabrics she used in producing garments.
Influenced by the work of Emilio Pucci, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Sonia Delaunay, Paul Poiret, and Elsa Schiaparelli, Rhodes is also inspired by her travels to exotic locations. Rhodes’ best selling garment was the 73/44 dress, which is a feminine and flattering dress utilizing prints designed by Rhodes. The 73/44 dress has been re-introduced and re-evaluated each season since it’s introduction in the 1970s.
Along with Ossie Clark, Rhodes helped shift the world’s perception of British fashion from either classically conservative or “outrageous” to ground-breakingly creative. According to Rhodes, “I am a British designer. I do think that, as much as people might be interested in my work, it is largely because it has a British aspect.”
For further reading: “Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles” by Zandra Rhodes, “Who’s Who in Fashion” by Anne Stegemeyer, and “British Fashion Designers” by Hywel Davies