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Afternoon Tea with Designer Zandra Rhodes

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Published 16 August 2010

Think ’Zandra Rhodes’ and ‘fashion show’ and you might, like me, reject all that ‘fashion’ nonsense, preferring your Primark to Prada any day.

So I was pleasantly surprised to experience a taste of affordable fashion at the Pure London Festival, Kensington Olympia, in a new range of exquisite, quality handbags, designed by none other than iconic fashion designer Zandra Rhodes.

Pure London is the UK’s leading fashion trade show, giving a huge range of new and existing fashion designers the chance to preview their spring/ summer 2011 collections this year– womenswear, footwear, young fashion and accessories. The 3 day event includes catwalk shows and live music, and next year is set to be the largest show yet, combining original London fashion pieces with worldwide brands.

The Kensington Olympia venue holds particular significance for Zandra Rhodes, who, launching her seashell collection in the Pillar Hall in 1970, transformed it from a dreary cobweb-filled room, to a space to hold her fashion shows in the late 70s and 80s.

At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking of Zandra Rhodes as one of ‘those quirky designers’- bright pink hair, check, dramatic clothes, makeup and jewellery, check – but in reality she couldn’t be more down-to-earth and simply charming. A conversation with Zandra will silence the most sceptical of fashion critics, as she explained the know-how, creativity and expression behind her statement designs over a question and answer afternoon tea at Pure London.

Having begun her fashion career over 40 years ago, Zandra made her mark on the London and international fashion scene in the 70s through her unique use of printed textiles in her garments. She was the most in-demand designer at that time, and was even flown to Paris to make costumes for Rod Stewart – not knowing who he was! ‘ If you’ve got pink hair they think you know what’s going on’, Zandra added. However in reality the reason for her bold hair choice is because it is actually the easiest colour to maintain on hair – that and the fact that children like it, and so the signature colour has stuck.

The fact that stars such as Kylie, Kate Moss and the late Princess Diana have been amongst Zandra Rhodes’s fans shows the longevity her style has achieved through its uniqueness, Zandra Rhodes being instantly recognizable – SJP wore a Zandra creation on Sex and the City!

Fans will not be disappointed that her new handbag range is lined with a statement jacquard pink lining, and the manufacturers have even introduced ‘rose-gold’ especially for her – cleverly injecting pink dye into gold for this unique shade.

Rhodes was as known for her early garment construction techniques as her prints and her designs included reversed exposed seams, safety pins and slashes – way before ‘that dress’ made famous by Liz Hurley. This technique, seen on the suede jacket with slits by Rhodes, reappears on one of her bag designs, showing that styles return again and again in fashion.

Also resurfacing in her handbag collection are her trademark prints and colours – theatrical and bold, yet feminine and glamorous. Much of the range is inspired by her garment prints such as the multi-coloured kaftan in blue, lavender and turquoise; and pink and black also make a big appearance as they are ‘always in’.

But what makes Zandra so relatable is her philosophy on a practical handbag. She acknowledges that in this day and age, the idea of trying to fit all you need into one compact space is ridiculous! I myself have tried to master this art of ‘packing light’ and am always defeated – especially for the day trip which is now our London life! Her designs are large enough, with enough pockets for all she would need – phone, wallet, diary, pens, business card, and a camera – ‘’ a telephone is for calls, not for photos’’. Plus room for that obligatory pair of extra shoes for comfort  – none of this tottering around in heels nonsense. Long zips and comfortable shoulder straps are all popular features –making her bags the perfect London accessory. My favourites were the gold shell and black bag with a frill which I thought would be the perfect travel accessory.

Having put herself into her handbag designs, Zandra would like her customers to feel they have a piece of Zandra Rhodes, in a bag they will treasure – and is thrilled that the prices are reasonable at around £30 each. The collection includes 85 pieces in a variety of styles including clutches, totes, makeup bags and wallets.

The new collection will be sold at Beales department stores, Fenwicks and will be on sale in Bentalls, Kingston-upon-Thames from September 20th.

There seems to be no end to Zandra’s talents, her creations extending to jewellery, wrapping paper, wellies, umbrellas, tents, a full range of china for Royal Doulton and furs for Pologeorgis in New York – she has even produced a make-up range in collaboration with MAC.

More recently Zandra designed the costumes and sets for international operas, and also set up the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, opened in 2003, exhibiting the work of fashion and textile designers from the 1950’s onwards.

It’s not surprising then that she has received an impressive number of awards during her 4 decades in the industry, among them an Emmy, OBE, and an appointment to the BFC Hall of Fame. She was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1997 after her contribution to fashion and textiles, and was made Chancellor of the University of the Creative Arts (UCA) in May, where she had to shake hands with 850 students – everyone wearing a dramatic pair of shoes!

So what would Zandra Rhode’s advice be to the countless future designers she continues to inspire? As most of her inspiration comes because of her drawing background, she would say to get out there and draw – ‘’the whole thing is to go out and experience something and draw it. If you draw it, it goes into your brain and filters out as something else’’. We can only live in hope, but until then bag yourself a Zandra Rhodes while stocks last.

‘In England, they have the Queen and Zandra Rhodes’  – L’Wren Scott

For more information about Zandra’s designs and collections, visit www.zandrarhodes.com


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