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Zandra Rhodes: 'I want my Aberdeen exhibition to help keep fashion alive' – Press and Journal

Aberdeen Art Gallery will celebrate the fabulous five-decade fashion career of Dame Zandra Rhodes who dressed everyone from rock stars to royalty.
Known for her bright pink hair, flamboyant designs and colourful prints, British designer Zandra Rhodes created iconic gowns for the likes of Princess Diana, Freddie Mercury, Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor and Barbra Streisand.
And Aberdeen fashion lovers will now have a unique chance to admire her attention-grabbing dresses when Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous exhibition opens at Aberdeen Art Gallery on Saturday November 27.
“I’m very excited to be bringing my collection to Aberdeen,” said Zandra who was speaking to P&J from her London studio.
“I did once visit it and I’m longing to come again. I always think of it as the home of Bill Gibb who I think is one of the great fashion designers and I was proud to know him very well. I think he had his own pop of colour too – mine is just maybe a bit brighter.
“We did shows together and then had wonderful times talking – he had a wonderful sense of humour, he could always make you laugh.”
First launched in 2019 in celebration of 50 years of Zandra Rhodes’ label at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum that Zandra founded in 2003, the retrospective exhibition highlights more than 50 key looks, as well as 30 original textiles.
In the exhibition gallery, a central multi-tiered plinth in the designer’s signature hot pink colour presents a number of ensembles. A ‘chiffon forest’ of almost 30 hand-designed, screen-printed textiles hangs in rows, fills part of the gallery space from floor to ceiling and allows visitors to get up close to original versions of some of Zandra’s most iconic prints.
Also on display is a collection of Zandra’s drawings, alongside larger than life reproductions of her illustrations.
Looking back on her career, the acclaimed designer said it was “both a challenge and an excitement” trying to pick up just one dress to represent each year of her career.
Zandra said: “I was sort of trying to look at all those different years and think ‘What do I really remember most about that year?’ and what proved to be momentous and things that have come through to last and be remembered.
“For example the Freddie Mercury or the Princess Diana dress – they’re the ones that got to be remembered. You got to make sure they get preserved beautifully.
“But I didn’t particularly go for the most famous ones, just the ones that most popped out.”
Both Zandra and the late Queen singer are renowned for their outrageous aesthetic and fabulousness and the designer was thrilled to find out a replica of her white pleated top that Freddie wore in the 70s was going to be recreated for Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.
Zandra said: “It was very exciting to know it was going to be recreated in the film – although it was only recreated to be there for a few seconds, but it was wonderful all the same.
“I still get pictures sent to me to sign from Freddie Mercury fans and it’s usually that one so it’s nice they want to see him in that and not just in his black T-shirt.”
Another iconic dress featured in the Aberdeen collection – the largest exhibition dedicated to the British design legend – is the sequinned pink dress Princess Diana wore in Japan.
Zandra said: “It was a great honour (to dress Princess Diana). Funnily enough, I was digging up some old press about me and they found a picture of me and they said ‘How could someone like this dress a princess?’ so it was a great honor because I’m not considered ‘Miss Conservative’ and it’s wonderful to be able to do something that the rest of the world appreciates.”
And Princess Diana isn’t the only member of the royal family that Zandra thinks her designs would look lovely on.
“I’d love to dress Kate, I think it’d be fabulous to dress her,” said the designer.
Complementing Zandra’s stunning gowns are fabrics and sketches which the designer says are a great background to her designs. And since Zandra motivates herself to do one sketch per day, there were many to choose from.
She said: “I try and look at things and sometimes it gives one a different angle that you never thought of and it ends up leading you into a collection. It can lead you onto another journey that you didn’t expect.”
Those interested in fashion and homeware will surely recognise a pink kaftan on display that she created for her recent ‘KARISMATISK’ collaboration with IKEA that came out in September 2021.
Zandra said: “That was such an exciting collab. I’m a textiles designer – that’s my first and foremost subject. We designed screens, cushions, rugs, carpets – it was so exciting, I had a wonderful time.”
The 81-year-old designer recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the prestigious Drapers Awards for her significant contribution to British fashion.
Zadra’s exhibition may inject a pop of colour into the Grey city of Aberdeen. And the designer has a few tips on how north-east folk can start experimenting with bold prints and statement pieces.
She said: “Try things. I mean, don’t go all out and frighten yourself, but you can start with something like a bright knitted jumper or you can change the way you tie a scarf or you can have a go and do makeup in different ways and it can all lead to something exciting. And just keep adding to it and see how you feel.”
When asked if she would like to give some fashion advice to the people of Aberdeen, Zandra said: “Come to the exhibition, enjoy it, if you’ve got any questions, please send them and keep fashion alive. The world’s coming out of Covid, we’ve got to be careful but it’s going to be an exciting new time.”
Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous will be at Aberdeen Art Gallery from November 27 till March 20 2022.
Please note the gallery will be closed on December 25, 26, 31 and January 1 – 2.
Councillor Marie Boulton, Aberdeen City Council’s culture spokesperson, and Gill Cochrane, collections and tourism officer at The Fashion and Textile Museum, were at the art gallery to help launch the fashion exhibition.
Tickets cost £9, with reduced rates available. Click here for more information and tickets.
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