Dame Zandra Rhodes

If you are a fan of 70s culture or fashion, then you surely know the name Zandra Rhodes.

This Dame, as decreed in 1997 by Queen Elizabeth II, has dressed the likes of fashion and contemporary culture’s favorites: Bianca Jagger, Freddie Mercury, Princess Diana, Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Mirren, and Kate Moss, and led the pack of designers who defined the age of punk rock and 1970s disco-glam. She found herself and her creative outlet in designing textiles. First deemed too loud and bold for the mainstream, Rhodes found her niche in the heart of the British punk, glamour, and avant-garde fashion scene that was burgeoning in London, ready to take the world by storm.

Rhodes came of age in the 1970s as did the love of dyeing her hair – originally green – spurred by being around textile dyes. It wasn’t until the 1980s that her signature pink coif was born. You are correct in guessing that design, art and fashion run in her blood; her mother was a fitter for the Parisian fashion House of Worth and then a lecturer at Medway College of Art. Rhodes, herself, attended Medway College of Art and then The Royal College of Art in London. She studied printed textile design and began designing dresses from her textiles. Thus, the marriage of her textiles and fashion began. The dresses brought her textile patterns to life, a symbiotic relationship if ever there was.

“My textiles are an integral part of the garment that you see,” she says. Rhodes originally sold these designs in her first collaborative storefront, The Fulham Road Clothes Shop in London, with Sylvia Ayton in the late 1960s. Subsequently, her clothing and designs have been carried by Henri Bendel in New York, Sakowitz, Neiman Marcus, Saks, and Fortnum & Mason in London. Rhodes had collaborated with the likes of Valentino, Royal Doulton and Adele Marie London and she is collected by fellow designers Tom Ford, Anna Sui and Ashley Olsen. Her textile designs have a timeless and feminine quality about them and she finds inspiration from her international travels from Australia to India, Ukraine to Japan.

“I am mostly inspired by travel. I love India, would love to go to Tibet, Macchu Picchu and climb it while I am still able,” she shares. Her designs have a feminine nature and organic quality that looks effortless, like doodles, squiggles, flowers and wavy stripes. Although working predominantly in textiles, Rhodes has designed tableware, china, jewelry, wrapping paper and rugs. 

While in her 60s, when most people are enjoying their retirement, Rhodes showed few signs of slowing down and even took on new projects, including her foray into the world of opera in 2001 with the SD Opera. Then, she conceptualized and launched the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, which officially opened May 2003.

But where does San Diego fit in with this London native, international traveler and design icon? She did, perhaps reluctantly, relocate here with her longtime partner Salah Hassanein when he retired, and splits her time between London and our oceanside community. The Londoner at heart mentions that the sun and salt of southern California can wreak havoc on textiles – thank goodness for air conditioning! And if it weren’t for her residency in Del Mar, then her collaboration with the world of opera may not have been at all. She was asked in 2000, by then SD Opera general director Ian Campbell, if she had ever designed for an opera. Intrigued by the idea, a new facet of her design mind took hold, first designing the costumes for The Magic Flute premiering in 2001, with an encore performance in 2006. Then, in 2004, not only did she design the costumes for The Pearl Fishers, but Rhodes ventured into set design. Subsequently, in 2007, Rhodes designed both sets and costumes for the Houston Grand Opera’s production of Verdi’s Aida.

Her partnership with the world of opera is being celebrated this spring by the SD Opera at their annual gala. Gala Chair Sherry Ahern is over the moon to celebrate the international fashion icon, especially for the beauty and creativity that she has brought to the opera and San Diego itself. The 2018 Opera Ball – Pretty in Pink – is on Saturday, April 7, at The US Grant Hotel. 

ZandraRhodes.com | SDOpera.org