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The Exclusive Interview: Zandra Rhodes

We meet the designer famed for her pink hairstyle, theatrical make-up and a love for nature

Posted: 14 April 2010
by Matthew Holroyd

Zandra and family on a beach in south England 1946

FAMED FOR HER pink hairstyle, theatrical make-up and a love for nature, celebrated designer Zandra Rhode’s reputation dates back to the late sixties, when she established herself on the fashion circuit with a boutique on the Fulham Road. Critical acclaim came in the seventies with punk, when her iconic jewelled safety pins and flair for deconstruction were considered to be the height of daring. April 2010 saw the launch of her debut girlswear range, Zandra Rhodes for Girls, for high-street favourite Marks & Spencer, so we decided to catch-up with Miss Rhodes for an intimate tete-a-tete. 

Where were you born and brought up?

I was born and raised in Chatham, Kent, in 1940.
Do you have brothers and sisters?

I have one sister, Beverley, who is married to a doctor and has four children.  
What were your favourite toys and games as a child?

I loved painting, drawing and dressing up. I had some lovely dolls – May and Jacqueline – and I used to make clothes for them. I still love party games, especially at Christmas – games like musical hats (which is like musical chairs but with hats) and Pass-The-Parcel with forfeits! I absolutely loved dressing up and our mother loved helping us with our outfits. One time, I was dressed as a poppy fairy in bright red crêpe paper. My sister Beverley and I used to always win the brownies fancy-dress competition. I remember the year my sister won as Carmen Miranda.
What did you want to be when you grew up?

I dreamed of being a ballerina, but that must have been short-lived as I didn’t go far with ballet. I loved drawing and painting too. I thought I would do book illustration and then I thought I would be a teacher like my mother! Once I went to art college, I loved designing so my fate was sealed.  
Do you have any particularly funny childhood memories?

For my sixth birthday, I received a pair of painted wooden Dutch Clogs. To celebrate, I did a special clog dance, kicked my legs up into the air and one of the clogs went soaring from my foot and right through the grand picture window!

Do you have any childhood fashion memories?

I loved dressing up and modeling in fashion shows for my mother. I also loved dressing up on Sunday mornings. Then, all dressed up, I went to see my granny.  If I went through to park, I had to run as the I can remember a gorgeous smocked organza dress with tiny cornflowers embroidered onto it. When it no longer fitted me, my sister had it and then when she grew out of it we gave it to the gypsies who lived along the road. One day my sister saw the beautiful dress on a child chalking on the road with no knickers on – she was very sad!

 Tell us about the younger members of your family?

I don’t have any children, but I have three nieces and a nephew, plus great nephews and nieces and a fabulous godson, Maxim, who is now grown up. All the little girls like pink and want to wear Zandra Rhodes things. When my nieces were younger, they loved helping me thread my necklaces and sort my shoes.
How did you get into designing?

I trained as a textile designer, doing lovely colourful textile prints. When I left the Royal College, I tried to sell my dresses but people said they were too extreme. So I decided that I would find someone to help me put dresses together then took them to the head of American Vogue. They were photographed on a top film star of the time: Natalie Wood.
What do you do in your spare time?

I dream up lovely patterns and I enjoy gardening on my terrace which has beautiful flowering camellias in pink, white and reds. I also love cooking, making bread and butter pudding and pea soup. I like cooking and experimenting with different dishes and then making the table look fabulous and different.
Tell me three interesting facts about yourself

1) I have pink hair. When I started I dyed my hair green and stuck feathers onto the ends.

2) I like to experiment with my make-up, trying different colours and glitter. I have some dark pink glitter eyelashes and black lipstick.

3) I collect postcards.

Zandra Rhodes For Girls range for 0–14 years will be available in selected M&S stores, and online from April 10, 2010. For details, visit www.marksandspencer.com

Don't miss... The Junior Meets hub of exclusive interviews, inside scoop interviews and quirky Q&As, with exciting interviewees including: Tommy HilfigerSir Paul SmithStella McCartney and lots of other influential fashion designers, authors and illustrators including Quentin Blake and Jeff Kinney, great business minds including Lord Alan Sugar and, everyone's favourite fashionable frog, Kermit.

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