Colorful London-based fashion designer Zandra Rhodes defined the psychedelic side of haute punk in the 1970s with her trademark bright fuchsia and tangerine tones, bold flower motifs and signature paisley prints. She took inspiration from children's illustration books, red Indian arrows, and rock landscape motifs—none of which were the designer's canned responses for a seasonal muse, but something Rhodes would examine with unparalleled humor and fervor. Last month the 69-year-old-designer launched a diffusion line, Z by Zandra Rhodes, at Harvey Nichols London. Rhodes produced the collection of nine looks, comprised of signature print dresses, jersey basics such as leggings (in grey print feather) and tees, in collaboration with designer Noelle Reno.
Of course, Rhodes (and her often-pink bob and penciled-in eyebrows), has never really gone away. In 2007, she designed a collection for Topshop, and before that she had done a fiery collection of lipsticks for MAC. Although you can have some of Rhodes' vibrant colors for less, the core of her business has long been from her eponymous, "expensive, ready to wear label," which she initially founded in 1969, with handkerchief pointed pants, sheer printed organza jackets and at home robes. She went onto add jersey in 1970 and velvet dresses worn with fur boots. That line is definitely hard to ignore, not just for its eccentricity, but also the innovative textile techniques , such as reversed exposed seams and the use of safety pins, which have earned accolades, including an OBE (Order of the British Empire), for her services to the British fashion industry.
"I used to be able to do whatever I believed in," says Rhodes, who wants to keep her work alive and worn by the younger fashion crowd, "Now you have to be aware of trends and the growing appeal for celebrity based fashions." Of course, Rhodes has herself a long history peppered with celebrity, like when Peter Sellars came by to get a quilted satin feather-print and flowing chiffon kaftan for Britt Ekland at the studio, "but I was so tired from working, I just fell asleep!"
Z by Zandra Rhodes came about when Reno began exploring the designer's extensive catalogue. They met through a mutual friend at The British Fashion Council and, "We agreed that someone needed to use this in a commercial way, geared toward a young market that resonates with her rebellious spirit and towards the mature market that knows, remembers and loves her," Reno says.
45 years into Rhodes' fashion career, there's an easy chic vibe to the pieces. Reno uses moments from the designer's history to describe the collection: "Festival season meets hippie Zandra but with a well traveled mindset." The tube dress, and a tank dress with a rouche on the side, are the signature pieces to the collection. And Rhodes' vision of punk has never abstained from quality. "The feel of the fabric is fab," she says. "We source all the fine jersey from France."
Quality, yes, but self importance, no. Reno has designed a distinctly un-haughty method of purchase—a patented Z by Zandra Rhodes vending machine. Installed on Harvey Nichols' third floor, shoppers scroll the styles and select color and size options by touch. And soon you can reach new daring levels, as thi pair intends to combine for swimwear and leisurewear using knit and luxury cashmere.
Z BY ZANDRA RHODES IS AVAILABLE AT HARVEY NICHOLS.