Rhodes Britannia


British fashion and textile designer, Dame Zandra Rhodes unveils a splash of design bold with her latest interiors collection with famed weaving house Gainsborough. By L-J Andrew

Best recognised for her revolutionising garment shapes and textile prints that enhance the silhouette, Zandra Rhodes was one of the first designers to incorporate street-style punk into couture, coining the nickname the ‘Princess of Punk.

Born in Chatham, Kent, in 1940, Zandra’s mother - who was a fitter for the Paris fashion House of Worth and later a lecturer at The Medway College of Art - was ultimately the driving force that inspired Rhodes to join the fashion industry.

In her early years, Zandra studied at Medway College of Art where her love of textiles was born. She reminisces: “Colleges were different back then. We were exposed to every discipline of art, sculpture and pottery, but it was when I met my textiles tutor, I knew it would become a passion for life. She had me mesmerised. Her enthusiasm and expert knowledge was so inspirational and her effortless passion transferred to me.”

Zandra went on to win a scholarship in Textile Design at The Royal College of Art in London, which further cemented her zeal for design. In the late 90s, Rhodes and her late partner Salah Hassanein bought a warehouse in Bermondsey and embarked on her dream of opening a museum. The Fashion and Textile Museum is now a world renowned exhibition space housing exhibitions for some of the world’s most influential designers. In 2014, Rhodes received the highest honour and was appointed as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen.

Over the span of Rhodes’s near 60-year career, she has designed for clients as diverse as Diana Princess of Wales, Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Debbie Harry, Isabella Blow, Joan Rivers, Lauren Bacall and Princess Michael of Kent. Most recently, the House of Zandra Rhodes created replicas of the tops Rhodes originally designed in 1974 for Freddie Mercury and Brian May for their characters in the 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody. In 2019, iconic American singer and actress Barbra Streisand wore a custom-made Zandra Rhodes outfit to headline the British Summertime Festival in Hyde Park.

Zandra’s own lifestyle is as dramatic, glamorous and extrovert as her prolific work output. With her shocking pink hair, theatrical make-up and art jewellery, she has stamped her identity on the international world of fashion with her unparalleled creativity. She comments: “When it comes to personal design, I need to sit with a room for a few days. I like to reflect in the space and plan where everything will go. Once it’s all in, I still need a few days to really feel that I like it, and I think most people are the same. You have to have lived with a design to see if it works for you.”

“I’m currently going through my own personal restyle. In my bedroom I’m putting a Savoir bed in the centre, one wall will be Black and Pink Rebel wallpaper, with another replicating a neon Manhattan sky line with a Golden Indian Screen and a picture wall. I’m currently living in disarray, with wallpaper stuck up with tape whilst I decide which of The Britannia Collection fabric will be my curtains. Connectivity between pieces is key, as is having different furniture, prints and influences, whilst seeing the range of style and mish mash of elements work as one.”

Zandra has collaborated with brands she believes share the same vision. Her latest foray into the interior design world this spring, ‘The Britannia Collection’, is a collaboration with one of Britain’s most iconic design names; silk weaving house Gainsborough. Skilfully composed and curated, the collection showcases a fusion of two distinct yet complementary aesthetics: the refined grandeur of Gainsborough’s exquisite designs alongside the bold, liberated style that characterises Zandra’s work.

Featuring two exuberant fabrics, O-Gee Whizz and Fabulous Frills, ‘The Britannia Collection’ is woven using traditional weaving practices, on heritage looms at Gainsborough’s historic mill in Suffolk. Zandra highlights: “Woven fabric is entirely different from print and I was acutely aware of designing something that would inevitably take longer to put together”. Both designs incorporate Zandra’s signature style of free-flowing patterns and prints, as well as her use of bold, captivating colours.

Having presented a series of initial hand painted designs, Zandra worked in close partnership with the team, delving into Gainsborough’s glorious design archive and exploring intricate production processes, eventually arriving at the perfect sympatico collection.

Zandra adds: “Gainsborough is such a fabulous brand. It’s a joy to see the range fully realised.”

As a result, the collection captures both the craft and finery of British textile design, as well a contemporary decorative style perfectly suited to today’s interiors.

O-Gee Whizz presents a vibrant new take on the Ogee pattern, infusing the traditional motif with Zandra’s signature four petalled daisy design, arranged in winding daisy chain lines that accentuate the decorative Ogee form. The fabric is woven using alternating shades, giving it an elegant diagonal look. Available in four colourways: Green Jewel, Cornflower, Echinacea and Aster.

Laid over Zandra’s classic Wiggle design in miniature form, Fabulous Frills features wonderfully exaggerated, frilled wavy lines that run the length of the fabric, eventually exploding into dramatic, curled swirls. Available in a gamut of gorgeous pastels, as well as iconic Zandra pink: Roman Rhode, Ice Rhode, Yellow Brick Rhode, Dusty Rhode.

Zandra explains: “The most important aspect with all design is, would I use it? Every piece of clothing needs to be something I would wear, even if nowadays I would never wear a mini dress unless it’s with trousers underneath. The same applies to interior design. There has to be something I would use and I would happily place in my own home.”

Zandra concludes: “I love each and every part of taking on a new project, from the initial design concept to the unique challenges that each commission throws up. Just at the point when you think you’ve ‘made it’, that’s when they come to knock you down, so it’s best to keep doing what you love and luckily I love my work.”

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