Zandra Rhodes | 50 Years of Fabulous

The Fashion and Textile Museum is celebrating it’s founder - Zandra Rhodes. She has stamped her personality on the world of fashion with her theatrical colours, bold prints and feminine chiffons, now we celebrate her fifty year (so far!) career with an exhibition that is, well… Fabulous.

Z with Pink Hair Pink Nails. Archived by ‘Zandra With A Zee’ - Documentary about Zandra

Zandra Rhodes founded the Fashion and Textile Museum to showcase incredible designers who have influenced the fashion world but whose work might have been forgotten over the years... And now she is being honoured as one of those incredible designers who have influenced the world of fashion, dressing icons such as Princess Diana, Freddie Mercury, Elizabeth Taylor and Kate Moss, on a journey that made her an icon herself.

This is a celebration of her work, some refer to her as having survived in the industry for fifty years but this exhibition does not show that of someone clinging to fashion but rather blossoming and striving in fashion. The Main Gallery has fifty looks - one for each of her years - in a multi-tiered plinth much like an anniversary cake - a symbol of celebration. From an ankle length screen-printed kaftan in 1969 to a fan pleated silk jumpsuit from 2018 this part of the exhibition shows her distinctive style coming through every garment even as she adapted throughout the years.

Zandra assisted in creating the exhibition, so instead of it just being a showcase of her fashion it is like walking through her artistic vision. The forest of chiffon in the Mezzanine Gallery lets you walk through over thirty original screen printed textiles that hang ceiling to floor - an enchanting and romantic ode to the legacy of these fifty years. These garments are soaked in the culture from her travels and shows a diverse interest in nature, landscapes, animals and art from all over the world.

The Fashion Studio displays many of Zandra's original illustrations which she turns into prints for her textiles. These are rare samples and give an insight into her creative process, which over these years, has remained largely the same. It's so interesting to see illustrations of nature and landscapes in a fashion exhibition, rather than garment sketches, this is most likely why her fashion is so vibrant - it's packed with life and unique experiences.

The illustrations are accompanied by a documentary about her inspirations and printing process. In the documentary Zandra say she tries to draw something everyday to inspire herself as she said “if you took a photograph it wouldn’t mean anything… If you draw it, it goes into your brain and filters out as something else.”

The exhibition shows some of the costumes designed by Zandra for the English Nation Opera's production of Aida in 2007. The costumes re-imagine Giuseppe Verdi's tale of Ancient Egypt and shows Zandra's ability to produce garments based entirely on creativity and fantasy, rather than fashion trends.

Very fittingly in amongst the opera is a satin tunic picked out by Freddie Mercury in 1974 to be one of his stage outfits. The garment on display is a replica made for the 2018 film ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’

Freddie Mercury and Brian May of Queen wear Zandra Rhodes tops on stage, 1974. Photograph by Douglas Puddifoot

Zandra founded the museum in 2013, it is owned by the Newham College, this exhibition shows how important it is for young people studying fashion to have a place to see inspiring works and learn from them. Needless to say, this exhibition is one students need to attend - in the 1970s Zandra was one of the designers who put London at the forefront of the fashion world for her creative statements.

This is an exhibition hand picked and cultivated by the designer themselves which gives it a feeling of intimacy and emotional attachment. Having such a strong and creatively driven fifty years as a designer is a huge achievement and in this exhibition she gets to decide how those fifty years will be defined.

As mentioned before Freddie Mercury picked out stage outfits from her studio in 1974, the fact that Queen had turned to this designer and found iconic garments to wear on stage show she has always been a designer for the bold - for the ones who have a personality that needs to be printed onto their clothes.

Even as this is being written she is preparing for a fashion show in the U.S. - Fifty years in the industry but no sign of slowing down.

Zandra Rhodes photo for the poster for the S/S 1986 ‘Spanish Impressions’ collection. Photograph by Robyn Beeche

'Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous' on at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 26th January 2020.

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