The shocking pink bob, thick, kohl rimmed eyes complemented with bright red lipstick, the colour-clashing dress and equally colourful, oversized accessories – subtle is not a quality Zandra Rhodes ascribes to. As one of the few designers who put London firmly on the international fashion scene, Zandra’s designs are both outrageous and timeless at the same time, lending them an unmistakable quality. It’s no wonder she counts HRH Princess Michael of Kent, Debbie Harry, Bianca Jagger, Kylie Minogue, Anastasia, Joan Rivers and the late Isabella Blow among the celebrities she’s dressed. We caught up with the iconic British designer who was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the KL Fashion Weekend and to promote her exhibition, Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles.
Tell us something about your exhibition at the National Textile Museum Kuala Lumpur?
The exhibition started in 2003 at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London, which I founded, and we kept adding to the exhibition each time I did a collection. It’s a collection of my work from when I started till right through, so roughly 1969 to the mid 90s. I save one of everything I design and those become the travelling pieces that have ultimately turned into this exhibition.
One section talks about how I am a print designer and how the print influences the garment; there’s a section on how I am a colorist and my work with colour and one on treatments – seams on the outside, slashing – punk outfits that feature beaded holes, and tears and bejeweled safety pins – done 10 years before Versace.
You will also be showcasing a couture collection for KL Alta Moda, what are the highlights of the collection? What can we expect to see?
It’s going to be a complete surprise. There’s one whole section that’s black and white – bold patterns in black and white and huge, great mini mouse bows – that look quite fab on the models’ heads. Then there’s my sketchbook dresses – based on my sketches brought to life as prints, digitally. There’s also kaftans – also from my sketches – and very, very colourful. And the finale pieces – some wonderful, all-over beaded tunics. I included those as I wanted there to be a link between the past and the future so people could see the beaded dresses I’ve done in the past, and how they look on a catwalk. Some of these pieces are from the exhibition. The show is a collection of just under 40 dresses.
Where does the inspiration for all this come from?
A lot of the time from travel. When I have the time to get away from it all and manage to travel. It’s usually when I’m away from England that I get to do shows. I travelled to India and some of the saris inspired by India are in the exhibition.
Will you be doing something similar with the local textiles here?
Anything’s possible. I’m doing the show at the moment, and with luck, someone will spot an opportunity to link me to something local and hopefully it will lead to something bigger.
You’re considered a pioneer when it comes to punk fashion. And indeed the 60s and 70s were a very exciting time for fashion. How does fashion compare today?
Well, I still feel excited about doing dress shows, and I still feel excited about being here, and I still feel excited about offering the public clothes that they can use.
You’ve dressed numerous celebrity clients. Who was your favourite to dress and why?
I don’t always know who they are till I get a photo with them wearing my dress. And then I go oh! These days often it’s organised by a personal shopper. You don’t always know!
What do you think of Asian fashion and style?
I get the impression that somewhere like Singapore and Malaysia is more open to a lot of ideas, as opposed to if you went to India. Just being here and at the shows, it’s probably more international, as opposed to India, that’s packaged as just India.
If you weren’t a designer?
Maybe a I’d be a cook. I like cooking and entertaining.
Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles will be open to the public at National Textile Museum Kuala Lumpur from 12th November 2013 to 12th January 2013.