Fashion icon Zandra Rhodes celebrates 50 years of fabulous

Zandra Rhodes
Zandra Rhodes
(Simon Emmett

Del Mar resident Zandra Rhodes is celebrating yet another milestone in her rhinestone-studded career as a revolutionary fashion and textile designer. To cap her 50th year in the fashion industry in grand style, she’s published a “luscious documentary” titled Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous by Yale University Press. The book showcases not only Rhodes’ work but also her vivid personality and creative energy. The so-called “Empress of Color and Textile” also opened a retrospective solo exhibition at the museum she founded in London called the Fashion and Textile Museum. And she has several events planned locally.

Rhodes has a book-signing event at Warwick’s Bookstore in La Jolla on Monday, Oct. 14 at 7:30 pm. She also is hosting the Zandra Rhodes Fashion Show in the Versailles Ballroom at the Westgate Hotel in downtown San Diego on Thursday, Nov. 7 at 11:30 a.m., with an additional book-signing before the event.

On Dec. 11 at L’Aurberge Del Mar, Rhodes will present a preview of her upcoming documentary, an auction of some of her vintage designs, and a book-signing and luncheon.

Beyond her hot-pink hair and her make-a-statement clothing and accessories, Rhodes is known for designing couture for big-name celebrities such as Cher, Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Diana, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Debbie Harry and Freddie Mercury of the rock band, Queen. She’s also created textile prints for Manolo Blahnik, founder of the eponymous high-end shoe brand, who’s quoted as saying, “It was a huge privilege to work with such a dynamic, creative force as Zandra. The most beautiful prints ever.”

Rhodes was one of the first designers to incorporate street-style punk into couture, coining yet another nickname as the “Princess of Punk.” Born in Chatham, England, in 1940, her mother was a fitter for a Paris fashion house and deeply influenced Rhodes’s fascination with clothing and accessories. She eventually came to New York where Diana Vreeland featured her garments in American Vogue, and then she started selling internationally to Neiman Marcus, Saks and other stores across the U.S.

This newspaper recently caught up with Zandra to ask a few retrospective — and introspective — questions as she looks back on a 50-year career.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, either in business or personally?

Hard to think of just one. I feel as though throughout such a lengthy career, one has many moments of inspiration and exploration! One of my biggest innovations was incorporating street-style punk in my designs in the late ’70s. I could feel a change coming and I wanted to experiment with my aesthetic. It inspired Gianni Versace with his punk designs of the ’90s and, more recently, Pierpaolo Piccioli when he asked me to collaborate with him on print/punk collections for Valentino.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Originally, I wanted to be an archeologist when I was growing up.

What is your most treasured memory, professionally?

My most recent treasured memory was Barbra Streisand holding her arms out at her concert in Hyde Park this past July and saying, “This outfit is by your very own Dame Zandra Rhodes!” She looked absolutely stunning!

Other than family, what are you most grateful for?

Having found a fabulous partner, Salah Hassanein, who treasured me and enabled me to found the Fashion and Textile Museum.

What’s one thing you’ll never do again?

Not sure. Sometimes it’s fun to take a chance.

To recap all of Zandra Rhodes’s upcoming events:

 Oct. 14: Book signing at Warwick’s in La Jolla.


 Nov. 7: Zandra Rhodes 20th annual fashion show at the Westgate Hotel with a pre-show book-signing.



 Dec. 11: Celebrating 50 years of being a fashion icon with a preview of Zandra Rhodes upcoming documentary, an auction of some of her most remarkable vintage designs, a book-signing and luncheon at the L’Auberge Del Mar. (More details to come)