50 Questions with Dame Zandra Rhodes

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Zandra Rhodes
Zandra RhodesCourtesy of Zandra Rhodes

As she stages a new collection at London Fashion Week – and celebrates 50 years in fashion – the inimitable and ever-colourful designer answers our questions

The inimitable, magenta-haired Dame Zandra Rhodes is now approaching 80 years of age. But, as she proves over the course of our 50 questions, she is as much of a workaholic as ever and retirement – or running out of ideas for new work – isn’t about to happen any time soon.

In fact, 2019 is Rhodes’ Jubilee year in fashion, and yesterday she staged a London Fashion Week presentation at The Fashion and Textile Museum – a venue that is also set to welcome an exhibition titled Fifty Years of Fabulous in September, a show celebrating the designer’s body of work and prismatic mark on British fashion. Here, Rhodes tells us about eating poached salmon and bread and butter pudding with Diana Vreeland, and the first dress she ever made.

1. Can you tell me about the London Fashion Week presentation?

It was at the Fashion and Textile Museum. We were so excited because we were able to Zandra-fy the space! 

2. Do you have a favourite piece from the collection?

Probably an amazing, exotic, pleated number.

3. How do you feel about celebrating 50 years of being in fashion?

I can’t believe it!

4. What is your first fashion memory?

Modelling in my mother’s fashion show at Medway College of Art when I was about seven or eight. Fashion is in the blood for me. And wearing a Balenciaga shovel hat. 

5. Do you remember the first piece of clothing you made?

I made a dress for my doll Jacqueline which was multi-coloured and it had coloured bias binding embroidered on it in stripes.

6. Where do you go to create?

Ideally, somewhere far away. It’s nice to do my thinking somewhere where people can’t get hold of you. Ideally, a holiday, but otherwise hiding in my studio.

7. And to be inspired?

On sketching trips with Andrew Logan. We would go to India or Tibet.

8. How would you define the clothes you make?

‘Gorgeous.’ I think the main thing I strive for is to make someone feel very gorgeous.

9. When did you know you’d made it?

I don’t think I will ever feel that! 

10. How would you define glamour?

Something out of the ordinary and attractive to the eye.

11. Who is the most glamorous person, living or dead?

Natalie Wood is pretty glamorous in all my clothes in American Vogue – and Lauren Bacall.

12. What is the best thing about modern fashion?

I actually think it’s the fact that there are no rules – and as a designer, you have to make your own rules.

13. And the worst thing?

Same thing. No rules! It means you’ve got to put your individuality to the test.

14. What’s the last photograph you took?

Me in a replica of my rainbow penthouse.

15. Do you collect anything?

I collect anything and everything. I collect stones from the beach or from trips. I collect designer china by Carol McNicoll and Kate Malone; sculpture and brooches by Andrew Logan, and lots of dust!

16. What’s your most treasured possession?

The first painting I ever bought.

17. Who would you like to dress but haven’t?

Princess Kate, the future queen!

18. Are there any other fashion designers who have inspired you?


19. What is your favourite film?

The Women with Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer.

20. What music would you put on to cheer yourself up?

Probably Mamma Mia by ABBA. Makes you sing and dance.

21. What song makes you cry?

Land of Hope and Glory.

22. What’s a book you could read again and again?

Probably, cookery books. I particularly enjoy Nigella Lawson ones.

23. What’s the last exhibition you went to?

The Edward Burne-Jones exhibition at Tate Britain. 

24. Do you have a favourite artist?


25. What’s the best thing you’ve seen in the theatre?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? about three years ago.

26. If someone were to play you in a film who would it be?

Meryl Streep. She is the best character actress going. She can play so many parts, so I’m sure she can play me!

27. What do you do to unwind?

I don’t – I’m not good at unwinding at all.

28. If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

The best dinner party I ever went to was with Diana Vreeland and Larry Hagman. It was very interesting because Diana Vreeland turned to Larry and said ‘What do you do?’ and he said ‘You won’t know me – I’m a bad man who’s just been killed in a film – but you’ll know my mother, Mary Martin!’

29. What did you eat?

Poached salmon, probably, followed by bread and butter pudding.

30. How do you feel about the saying ‘less is more’?

More is more!

31. What is your favourite memory of the 1970s?

My midnight show at The Roundhouse in 1972.

32. What makes the Zandra Rhodes woman?

An individual person with character.

33. What’s the best advice you ever received?

It was from my mother: ‘Good, better, best, never let it rest, ‘til your good is better and your better best.’

34. What’s the greatest compliment you’ve received?

Getting my Damehood.

35. If you could go back in time and say something to your 13-year-old self, what would it be?

Work harder! 

36. If you were prime minister for the day, what would you do?

Reverse Brexit.

37. What’s your greatest fear?

Running out of ideas.

38. What is your greatest pleasure in life?

Friends and sketching.

39. Who is your muse?

Textile designer Sonia Delaunay.

40. If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?

I really can’t think of anything else! If I had to answer, I would say a chef or garden designer.

41. Can you imagine a life without work?

No, but I’m a workaholic!

42. What’s the biggest risk that you’ve taken?

Giving up part-time teaching and taking my first collection to the USA in 1969.

43. How would you define ‘fabulous’?

My yellow coat from 1969.

44. Where is your favourite place to be?

I suppose my studio.

45. What makes you laugh?

An evening with friends.

46. What scares you the most about the future?

Again, it would be running out of ideas.

47. Are you nostalgic?

No, I am a realist and live in the present.

48. What’s been your career high?

Being made a Dame.

49. What is it that keeps you doing what you do?

The love of doing it.

50. What are you most thankful for?

That I am still here!