Lone and Wacky Rhodes; INTERVIEW Carole Ann Rice Meets British Fashion Icon Zandra Rhodes, Now Living and Breathing Her Plan for a Top Fashion and Design Centre

The Birmingham Post (England), February 10, 1999 | Go to article overview

Lone and Wacky Rhodes; INTERVIEW Carole Ann Rice Meets British Fashion Icon Zandra Rhodes, Now Living and Breathing Her Plan for a Top Fashion and Design Centre


Some may think that designers live in ivory towers, walk on rose petals and float on tulle. But the pink-haired dervish that is Zandra Rhodes crafts her habitation out of the grim pages of a Dickensian novel.

In the shadow of Tower Bridge and tucked away from the human tide of traffic that makes London Bridge a documentary maker's vision of a world turned mad, she has feathered her nest.

Long, dimly-lit tunnels, dripping with water and howling desolation lead to lock-ups, warehouses and crumbling storerooms yet here is a vision, technicolour in hue, embarrassingly audacious and courageously ambitious.

Just like Benny Green's utopian dream of turning the old Bird's Custard factory in Digbeth into a creative storehouse of budding talent so Zandra sees her fancy rising from the ashes of an old 1970s cash and carry warehouse into a fashion museum that is testament to great British design.

Just as Brum's Custard Factory was painted lapis blue and is a thriving part of an area ripe for commercial rejuvenation, so the Fashion and Textile Museum will be an orange and pink focal point for fashion exhibitions, student courses and video presentations.

At present it remains an unimpressive caramel brick warehouse where Miss Rhodes has taken up residence, quite literally, on the top floor in an industrial catacomb of cracked mirrors, Casbah-style textiles and a burst pipe flood.

"So far we've raised money to have apartments converted on the top floor and the building of the museum below but we've got a short fall for running expenses," says the designer viewing her empire.

"The date we begin ground-breaking will be in June and and when it's complete, I shall have a proper flat upstairs and the Zandra Rhodes Foundation will be my legacy to British design," she says modestly.

Cynics view the project as nothing more than a huge ego trip for the fragrant designer and when complete and travelling through the trademark fuchsia portals, visitors will see a glittery bust of Zandra Rhodes by old pal and soul mate Andrew Logan, so her detractors could have a point.

Perhaps it is the offspring she never got around to having, being a workaholic with a taste for conventional, tweedy academics.

Or maybe it's a product of stock-taking her life at 58 and seeing it as a last ditch attempt to not only make her mark but leave it there for eternity, whatever it is it is her boldest statement to date.

"It's the nature of fashion that even if you are still out there and working away producing collections they choose not to notice. There is a limit to how many times you can contact magazines and ask them to view what you're doing and what we more established designers are doing is no less ground-making than the new designers.

"When people see our work they love it. I feel that the museum will consolidate what I do."

There is not one hint of bitterness or cynicism in this grand dame of British couture. How could there be with a woman well into her HRT years wearing a papal purple trouser suit, gold shoes and enough jewellery strung around her neck, hands and ears to kit out a drag queen's convention?

Her plum nail varnish is sploshed on in Jackson Pollock fashion and her signature Cleopatra eye make-up looks like yesterday's left-overs heated up.

Which is more or less what it is, as she says, without shame, that she always sleeps in her make-up and isn't able to function cerebrally, creatively or otherwise without it.

But the really weird thing about Zandra Rhodes is that underneath that pink foliage, the faded glitz and the cat's eyes make-up, there lurks an old fashioned gal who never drinks, wants to be liked and who has a prim properness that would befit a librarian. …

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Lone and Wacky Rhodes; INTERVIEW Carole Ann Rice Meets British Fashion Icon Zandra Rhodes, Now Living and Breathing Her Plan for a Top Fashion and Design Centre
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