At 72 years old, with an almost half-century long career in the fashion industry under her self-designed belt ("I only wear my own things," she tells me) Zandra Rhodes still has no desire to rest on her laurels. Down time, actually, is the one thing the British designer has no time for at all. I caught up with her at Mass Art, where she was outfitting a gaggle of models for a runway show in conjunction with her retrospective exhibit Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Love Affair with Textiles.
You've been in the game since the '60s; has it been hard to remain relevant and continue to come up with new ideas? I think you find your inner whirlwind and that's it. I mean, when I see it all out like this, suddenly I can't believe it all over again. I feel very privileged to have done it, and to still be doing it. It's still a battle. But if you do things you believe in, it's always more difficult.
Tell me about the punk scene — you were once dubbed the Princess of Punk. . . . I was only remotely on the scene. Suddenly I just thought, why not experiment? I mean just as [Elsa] Schiaparelli used Salvador Dali for Tears [iconic 1930 gown], I could use tears as objects in themselves. I looked at how things could be pinned together, and holes as the design. And actually, Versace did the same thing 10 years later, and it was pointed out by Suzy Menkes [editor of the International Herald Tribune], and Suzy was banned from Versace shows for a year!
Do you feel that you missed out on anything, never having had children? Now that I've got to be a lot older I think, well maybe I've missed out, but would I have done what I've done? You can't say. No, these are my children, my work is my children.
Speaking of, all parents say they could never pick a favorite child, but you know they have one. What's yours? Oh God, I do love my early ones, because they're now saying things that aren't as applicable to the world today. But it might turn around again. I mean, you think of the Beatles, I don't mean they were ever out of fashion, but the early ones [songs] came back again, 30 years afterwards, so you never know what's going to happen.
You've dressed some really iconic people. Who was your favorite? I liked dressing Princess Diana, she was charming.
Diana had a very classic, almost conservative style. Seems incongruent . . . Mine were probably her extremer dresses. That's interesting, you're the only other person who's picked up on that! When my things were put up on display at Christie's, someone said to me, "Yours were really the only fantasy pieces she ever wore."
Who are some designers you have your eye on right now? I'm not good at up-and-comings. I'm good on people I admire. I really admire Jean Paul Gaultier. If you ever get to see that show [40-year-retrospective] in San Francisco with the talking mannequins, it is to die for. I like people who create an image. Does that make sense? Like, Thierry Mugler did suits and cuts that you could look across the room and you knew it was one of his. That's how I'd like people to look at my work. I'd like them to say, that person is in a Zandra Rhodes. That I contributed something towards . . . everything.
ZANDRA RHODES SANDRA AND DAVID BAKALAR GALLERY, MASSART, 621 HUNTINGTON AVE, BOSTON:: THROUGH DECEMBER 1 :: MASSART.EDU