Fashion / Style

British Style Rebel Dishes on Designing for the Queen, Freddie Mercury and Grande Dames

Behind the Pink Hair of the Iconic Zandra Rhodes

BY // 11.09.18
photography Simon Emmett

Ahead of her being honored with the lifetime achievement award at Fashion Group International’s Night of Stars Dallas Gala, I went up close and personal with style-setter Zandra Rhodes.

The English icon is credited with spearheading the new wave of British designers that revolutionized fashion in the 1970s. A designer of fashion, textiles, stage sets, and theatrical costumes — and recently entitled Dame by HRH the Queen — Rhodes,’ with her pink hair, larger-than-life makeup, and statement jewelry has become synonymous with a bold variety of individuality that straddles the worlds of punk rebellion and regal fashion.

Case in point? Her garments have been worn by the likes of Princess Diana, rock star Freddy Mercury, and grand dame actor Helen Mirren.

Here, I pick the zany, fashionable, and fearless brain of the inimitable Miss Z.

You were known for being one of the seminal creative design forces behind the British new romantics and punk rock movements. Can you share some of your inspirations from that era?

I invented the “conceptual chic” look with my jersey dresses, with embroidered holes and beaded safety pins and chains. One of the garments from this iconic collection is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fashion Institute of Technology has one of the pink punk garments in their current show, “PINK”.

Memories from these early days are dressing Princess Diana, having my magical one-sided Ayers Rock dress worn by Jackie O, and Lauren Bacall wearing a dusty-rose butterfly dress I specifically designed for her.

Any bands that you were excited to dress or collaborate with?

I designed an outfit for Freddie Mercury of Queen that became one of his most iconic looks. He and Brian May came to me in 1974 in my tiny attic studio. Freddie chose a pleated white-satin top.

I have also made jersey outfits for Mark Bolan of T Rex. These stars pioneered the glam rock movement.

What has really been so exciting is that decades later, Freddie Mercury continues to be remembered in my exotic pleated top. A glimpse of this top can be seen in the new Bohemian Rhapsody film.

You famously change your hair color frequently? What prompts the changes?

I have had colored hair since 1972. At first, I experimented with colored streaks, then I glued feathers onto the ends. Gradually, I dyed my hair more and more.

At first it was green, but after a trip to China in 1980, I said, “Red China!” and dyed my hair pinkish-red! I’ve kept it dyed that color ever since! It’s easy to maintain and I don’t intend to go grey. I try to slightly adapt my hairstyles but the color pink is here to stay!

Describe your current mood and how it is reflected in your designs.

My current mood is “looking back, looking forward” — mixing old inspirational prints and garments and adding and incorporating in new ideas. I always integrate exotic prints and lovely colors. I design all my prints. Many of them derive from sketches I’ve done while I travel. I started as a print designer and that is my first true passion. The prints always tell the story.

We’ve heard from some of our local ladies that you have visited Dallas in the past? Can you provide your take on the Texas aesthetic?

I used to come to Dallas every year for Neiman Marcus. Twice, I’ve taken part in the Neiman Marcus “British Fortnights,” once with Princess Margaret.

Through Larry Hagman, I got to know Eugene and Mary Anne Smith and always stayed at their E Bar S Ranch. I have also had the opportunity to go to the Mesquite Rodeo with Ann Barbier-Mueller. I adored learning the Texas two-step and choosing new cowboy hats!

Texas has influenced some of my designs such as my Cactus and Cowboy collection and prints. In 1975 I did a Cactus and Cowboy collection before any American designer. There is nowhere else like Dallas! Sleeping on the roof of the ranch in the summer and hearing Gene Smith’s stories of alfalfa fields were so very enchanting! I also came to Dallas for the opera when they played Mozart’s “Magic Flute.” I was honored to create costumes for this.

Are you looking forward to doing anything while you are in Dallas?

I am looking forward to reuniting and visiting with friends. Jan Strimple who is presenting me with a Lifetime Achievement award at the Night of Stars modeled for me in London in the ’80s!

I am also excited to be at Stanley Korshak on November 8 and 9. I am proud that I was one of the first designers to show in Stanley Korshak when it first opened in Caroline Hunt’s Crescent Hotel. Several of my historical garments as well as those that I recently presented at London Fashion Week in September will be on display at Stanley Korshak for Dallas fashionistas to view and more at the Adolphus Hotel for Night of the Stars.

Zandra Rhodes will be honored at Fashion Group International’s Night of Stars Dallas Gala tonight, November 9 at the Adolphus Hotel. For more information, click here.

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