Frock and Awe: Hadley Freeman on Why Zandra Rhodes Might Have the Last Laugh. (Fashion)

Article excerpt

Who'd have expected it? Zandra Rhodes, the designer with apenchant for eye-wateringly fluorescent clothes, who proudly describes her current hair colour as "pinkissimo", and coats her eyelids an inch thick in turquoise eyeshadow every morning, has pulled off a dazzling feat of co-ordination.

After nine troublesome years, the Fashion and Textile Museum, which for so long seemed simply Rhodes's impossible dream, has become a great pink and orange reality in SE1. Here, form and content are in perfect accord. A big, beautiful bubble of escapism, the museum is as gleefully oblivious of its grey surroundings as fashion itself. Like the British fashion industry, its imagination and ingenuity can just about be perceived through the lack of funding and ramshackle organisation; and, like Zandra Rhodes herself, the result is a heartwarming triumph of survival against the odds.

Rhodes, now 63, glided to prominence in the 1970s on a swirl of reds, pinks and yellows that she swished over her hand-painted clothes and across her face. But while she has happily stuck with her distinctive style over the decades, her rainbow swirled designs - once favoured by Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli and, of all unlikely Seventies fashion divas, Princess Anne - became as dated as dropping acid in the following decades. Come the 21st century, the fashion world, always fond of making the implausible desirable, has re-embraced Rhodes as "retro".

Throughout her turbulent career, Rhodes kept her sights on immortality in the form of establishing a museum dedicated to fashion. Such an idea might be taken for granted in other countries (France and the US, for example), but in Bhs Britain it seemed preposterous. Denied Lottery funding, Rhodes set about raising the [pounds sterling]4m herself, even selling her own house (she's been sleeping in the museum ever since).

Orange, pink and bold as brass, the museum is a noisy explosion on Bermondsey Street. The crystal and glass-studded entryway is as alluring as a shop window, but lust as you find yourself being seduced, loose threads begin to appear: grammatical mistakes in the blurbs; illegible exhibit descriptions, written in neon letters on the floor; higgledy-piggledy layout; and technical hitches with the rotating displays. The museum s computer system had temporarily packed up and, the press officer informed us, "obviously the lights aren't working". Obviously. As too often happens when "British" and "fashion" come together, the ambition is there, but the funding and business acumen are not. …