Editor’s note: This fourth installment of WWD’s look through the Fairchild fashion archives reproduces a December 31, 1975 interview in London with the talented Zandra Rhodes, as well as a February 15, 1977 interview in Paris with the emblematic Madame Grès.
LONDON – Behind the unnamed shabby blue door on Porchester Road (London’s estate agent district euphemistically described as ”up and coming”) isa hive of activity where Zandra Rhodes and her team of workers print, make up and hand-finish her romantic fantasy creations.
“When Bill Blass was here, I felt so uncomfortable showing him around,” Rhodes says in his Cockney shriek. “You know how big he is – but he wanted to see it all.”
“She represents an original approach to clothing,” says Blass, who met Rhodes a few years ago at a runway show in Palm Beach. “In London, she and Jean Muir are the ones making global contributions to fashion.”
Evangeline Bruce, Marietta Tree, Britt Ekland,designer in the world”.Pat Harmsworth, Lady Lichfield and Pauline de Rothschild, who believes that Rhodes “is the most talented
“Tony Snowdon brought his kids for tea and said he wanted to make a movie here. No one was ever mean to it, but I think a lot of the ladies were nervous at first: it’s kind of disconcerting to changing in front of a dozen girls who cut and machine around you when you’re used to a cushy dressing room. When Lauren Bacall came here for the first time,” says Rhodes, “she walked on a hairpin. didn’t know what to say. But she’s such a sensational woman. She says I’m the worst dresser she knows because she always catches me in jeans looking terrible.
Whether she’s wearing jeans or her own creations, Zandra Rhodes looks quirky, never dreadful. His hair changes color according to his moods: now it is blackish brown with a duck blue plume. She circles her eyes in the same color and adds a blue mole or two. She is as small, sturdy and tough as a terrier, and expects high standards and conscientiousness from the people who work for her. She herself works a 14-hour day, starting at 7:30 a.m. “I am always at work, even on Sundays. I find that I cannot separate work from pleasure.
The London boutique she opened in June eased the pressure considerably, she says. It’s run by Anne Knight – “Gerry Stutz of England” – and means customers go straight to the store, not the studio. Yet Rhodes complains of a lack of space to design and work in, and is looking for bigger premises. She currently uses the main room of her colorful apartment nearby to house the cutters.
The cut fabric is transported to Porchester Road, put in plastic bags and given to one of the two dozen sardine girls in the room among boxes of feathers, frills, sequins and sewing machines. The only heating comes from paraffin fires. “People always tell me how fire risk this place is.”
A finished chiffon dress is “a work of art,” Rhodes says. In the London shop, a dress sells for around $600 and the customer is presented with a printed silk certificate with Rhodes’ assurance: “This is one of my special dresses, I consider it a work of art. ‘art you will cherish forever’, signed by her and numbered. “With my genre of priced clothing, I maintain that every dress should be exclusive.”
Sixty-five percent of customers who enter the store are Americans, Rhodes says. “When we opened, I thought, ‘I’m going to fall flat with this, but since then the turnover has tripled.’ She plans to open a similar boutique in New York by the fall.
Would she consider living in the United States? ” I surely can. I love it there, it’s very, very inspiring, but I haven’t made a decision yet.
America gave Zandra Rhodes her first opportunity as a designer almost 10 years ago. “I flew over at the start because Paul Young said he would support me. He didn’t…but in my pocket I had two letters of introduction – one for Gerry Stutz. She loved the little collection I had brought.
“I experience Zandra differently than other designers,” says Stutz, who says the designer “has been part of the store [Henri Bendel] for five or six years. She is not a professional designer, but rather an artist who has chosen clothing as her medium. She is talented and witty. Her take on the bicentenary, for example – her cactus prints (from her spring collection) are stunning. Her glorious fantasy clothes. They have everything to do with style and nothing to do with fashion. They are timeless, dramatic, wonderful to wear and wonderful to look at.
According to Rhodes, “Americans go up and down whether they feel classic or not. Luckily, these days, my “fancy dresses,” as they’re called, have become status symbols. »
Rhodes trained first as a textile designer at Medway College and later at the Royal College of Art, where his contemporaries were budding young talents David Hockney, Ossie Clark and Janice Wainwright. His father was a truck driver and his mother, before becoming a lecturer at the First Art College in Rhodes, was a fitter at Worth in Paris. (Her aunt, she notes, is Ena Twigg, the famous psychic—”anything that scares me, I don’t want to know. I just know her as my aunt.”)
In college, Rhodes says, she was the blue-eyed baby, but when she left, she was told her designs were unusable, too extreme. She built her print jobs with Alex McIntyre (who still works for her) and approached the designers directly. “Then I thought being the middle man like that was ridiculous, especially since I always think about what the garment will look like when I’m designing the print. A friend gave me three lessons in pattern making and it is how it all started.
Her fingerprints still permeate everything she does, Rhodes says. “I want to develop the inner side of design and focus on my drawings. Anyone who knows me is very aware of the facets that get lost,” says Rhodes, citing as an example of another talent the metal drawings she started doing, beautifully framed in pleated satin.
“I surround myself with people who do things, so that work and play blend together.” Her circle of friends in London includes Adel Rootstein, Duggie Fields, Andrew Logan and Carol McNicoll, the potter.
Its ambitions are to learn to delegate more, “because it’s the only way to have more time to design”, and to establish itself in boutiques all over the world.
“I’m thriving now, working better and better,” Rhodes says shamelessly. “For me, fashion is so exciting because I can do what I love –the sky is the limit – that’s how lucky I am.