Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Art of Zandra Rhodes
Wearable Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

The exuberant sensuality and sexual permissiveness of the late 1960s - when Portabello Road had supplanted Carnaby Street and Kensington became the heart of the fashion revolution - is inculcated in the fashion expanse of Zandra Rhodes.

Portobello Road (1967).
Photograph courtesy of Frank Habricht.

Zandra Rhodes graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1964 – a key moment in the history of fashion. Mary Quant, Sally Tuffin, John Bates and company, created new fashion shoots that stripped away middle class pretentiousness and so created fashion that celebrated the youthful body. After all, the birth control pill was now widely dispensed and so women could reclaim their bodies and their sensualities without human penalty. Fashion was steered toward art and art became wearable.

John Bates (with models) at Jean Varon Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

By 1968 Brigid Keenan wrote in Nova magazine:
”Fashion is experiencing one of its most interesting dilemmas of its history. There is a state of anarchy”.

The “top-down” theory of fashion (haute couture fashion dumbs down into street-wear) was quickly supplanted with a “down-to-up” theory (street-wear informs haute couture). It was the age of “Aquarius” and so the age of dissent - from anti-Vietnam demonstrations in the USA to a series of student occupation protests in France against capitalism, consumerism and traditional institutions, values and order.

The May 1968 Paris student riots. A part of the impact was on fashion.

The youth that embraced “unrest” wore cloths of dissent. Jeans, tea shirts (now called tees), sandals, bandanas and wristbands etc. were commonplace. Some women embraced baldness and some men embraced bum length hair. Nothing was sacred along the sex divide - the uni-sex look had arrived!

In the 1960s manufacturers started to make different styles of jeans to match the 60s fashions which included embroidered jeans, painted jeans, psychedelic jeans etc. These styles were a huge part of the fashion and culture.

Zandra Rhodes
Zandra Rhodes launched her first solo collection in 1969. She had trained as a textile designer. As a fashion designer, she was self-taught. She was driven by her vision that creating a print and garment was a single creative experience and pursuit. She is didactic and so is missionary in her exploration of fashion. She wrote:
”I really want the people who will come to my exhibition to go away understanding how I work. So we will take them through the process of design, of making a silk screen and choosing dye colors, of cutting the garment from the printed fabric, sewing it and then adding all the signature details like slashing, the pinking, the reverse seams”.

Fashion designer Zandra Rhodes opens the Bermondsey Street Festival (2010).

Her two-dimensional designs must come to life in a three-dimensional garment.
“First of all”, she says, “Having drawn the design, I think ‘Do I like the pattern?’ Then, I try the paper on myself and have a look at it on the big scale. I’m thinking of the print making a statement for the garment, rather than the garment just chopping into the print”.

Zandra in the print room (2004).
Courtesy of reference [1].

She has a natural sense of theatre and is courageous and confident enough to display it in her garments. After all in her era, rock and theatre were combined by the likes of David Bowie et al. and yet fashion, art and theatre had found no common ground in fashion except for her work.

”I found out”, she says, ”from my earliest experiments in the world of textile design, that I was like no one else and fitted into nobody else’s shoes. That meant that all along I was the best promoter and advertisement for my cloths. So since I did a new look every six months, I had to change my appearance every six months. I used myself as a canvas with no compromises.”

Zandra and Ben Scholten (head of design) reviewing a newly printed fabric (2004).
Courtesy of reference [1].

Although she travels a good deal to promote her brand, she lives most of the time on the Pacific Ocean in Del Mar, just outside La Jolla California, with her partner of eighteen years, Salah Hassanein, the ex-president of Warner Brothers Theatres.

“If it was not for him”, she says “I would be here in Britain all the time. I am a British designer.”

Zandra Rhodes and Salah Hassanein.

The generation of fashion designers she belongs to, spawned the next generation of designers like Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney.

“The cloths are like your children that you re-discover; they evoke memories as you press them… Some are now 30 years old and half the people who are going to see them didn’t live through these adventures”.

Coat in “Chevron Shawl” print (1970).
Comment[1]: The print “Chevron Shawl” is a stylized fringed shawl on unbleached calico. The edges of the fringe are cut out and stitched around to show the print on either side. The calico is bagged out and quilted. On the body the tasselled fringe drapes downward.

There are plenty of people who are hooked on Zandra Rhodes not because of sentimental memories of an era passed, but rather because of her continual re-affirmation that individuality, creativeness and being oneself is a much truer trajectory in life than mass marketing oneself.

“I have had several tries at the mass market” she admits, “but what I do had to be done well and expensively. I cannot really price my work for the mass market”.

The Art of Zandra Rhodes

Jacket, 1970 style.
Comment[1]: Jacket and skirt in shocking pint silk chiffon printed with “Chevron Shawl" print. When on the body the tasselled feather fringe hangs downwards and moves freely like a real fringe. The print is of a stylized shawl with fringe. The points are trimmed with white feathers and all edges are hand colored.

Dress, 1970.
Comment[1]: Dress in black silk chiffon printed with “Indian Feather Sunspray” print in turquoise, ginger and cobalt blue. The center seam flutes because the seams are on the outside and the scallops of the print have been cut out to form a cascade. The sleeves are made by cutting around the large feather sunsprays. All edges are hand-rolled.

Dress, 1973.
Comment[1]: Dress in white with “Spiral Shell” and “Reverse Lily” prints. It has been cut out along the curve of the “Reverse Lily” print for the yolk seam and around the inside of the shell spirals. This causes the dress to fall in narrow fishtails at the sides and the line of the “Reverse Lily” print supplies the bust detailing.

Dress, 1970.
Comment[1]: Dress in yellow printed with “Indian Feather Sunspray”. The skirt hangs in tiny featherlike fronds because the printed feathers in the sunspray have been cut around. The feather motif is emphasized by the giant ostrich feather hanging from the ethnic inspired velvet bodice. All edges are hand-rolled.

Waistcoat, 1970.
Comment[1]: Waistcoat in “Chevron Shawl” print in cream silk with an ethnic inspired quilted silk yoke. The body is created from two exact repeats of the “Chevron Shawl” print. The “V” shape of the body is formed by the edge of the print and the tasselled fringe is emphasized by the natural brown cock feathers.

Coat, 1971.
Comment[1]: Coat dress is quilted cream satin in “Button Flower” print. The skirt is made from 13 complete circles. Circular skirt with pattern arranged in three rows. The first consisting of one circle, the second of three circles and the third of nine circles.

Kaftan, 1970.
Comment[1]: Short kaftan in white silk chiffon printed with cobalt, ginger and turquoise in “Indian Feather Sunspray”. The edges of this square cut shape are cut out along the lines of the print. The center front fabric at the bust and hem hang down in front of the garment because the edges of the feathers in the print have been cut out. All edges are hand-rolled.

Jacket (front), 1971.

Jacket (back), 1971.
Comment[1]: Jacket in cream and pink in “Spiral Shell” print. The jacket drapes in curves because the underarm seams follow the lines dictated by the print. The base of the jacket is gathered into the contained line of the edge quilting.

[1] G. Monsef, D. Nothdruff and R. de Niet, Zandra Rhodes – A Lifelong Love Affair With Textiles, Zandra Rhodes Publications (2009).

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